Probate is a legal process that allows the executor of a will to follow its instructions. You may need legal permission to do this from a UK court and, as part of the probate system, will need to apply for a grant of representation for authorisation to manage the deceased person's estate. Probate is not always needed. If it is, it can take a variable amount of time to process.
Estates that do not need probate
Not all estates need to go through probate. You may not need to follow this process if: the amount of money in the estate is small; the estate is composed of just cash and personal possessions or an asset is in joint names and ownership passes to the surviving individual. This can depend on the rules governing individual financial institutions. Some banks will release accounts on the submission of a death certificate while others require probate. You are likely to have to go through probate if the deceased person owned property, land or shares, or if the estate is large and complex.
Estates that need probate
If you need probate, you will follow specific steps to apply for a grant of representation. First, fill in the application form PA1 and the relevant Inheritance Tax form (see Resources.) At time of publication, Inheritance Tax in the UK is charged if the estate is worth more than £325,000. You also need to submit an official copy of the death certificate, the original will and three copies of the will. If the estate is valued under £5,000, there is no fee; if its value is higher, a fee of £105 is charged. Finally, you need to find a local probate office and swear an affidavit that the information you are giving is true to the best of your knowledge.
The time it takes for the probate system to approve a grant of representation varies. This depends on the complexity of assets and the accuracy of the information given. If forms have been filled in correctly and the estate is small, doesn't incur Inheritance Tax and has straightforward assets, then it can be awarded in as little as three to five weeks. More complicated wills with larger and more numerous assets can take months and, in some cases, years to reach probate.
Probate without a will
If the deceased did not leave a will but the estate warrants probate, then the next of kin can apply to administer it. This process is similar to probate, but permission to act is given by applying for letters of administration. This also applies if the will is invalid, if there are no named executors or if an executor does not want to take on the role.
You can apply for probate yourself or through a solicitor. Taking legal advice will incur costs but could speed up the process for more complex estates.