Probate is the process of getting the court’s permission to carry out the wishes within someone’s Will. It is normally carried out by the ‘executor’ named in the Will. Once this has been permitted, a person is said to have obtained a ‘grant of probate’ or a ‘grant of letters of administration’.
Having obtained a grant of probate or letters of administration, a person can begin to settle the estate. This guide will take you through the probate process step-by-step.
Applying for probate after someone’s death should not be difficult, as long as the estate is not too complicated.
How to apply for probate
There are 5 main steps to obtaining the grant of probate, if you are applying for probate yourself. If you enlist the help of a probate solicitor, then they will help you to take care of the following. If no Will has been left, then the next of Kin will receive a ‘grant of letters of administration’ rather than a ‘grant of probate’. The process of application is the same.
The 5 steps of the probate process are:
1. Register the Death
Before applying for probate, you need to register the death. This needs to be done within 5 days of the death taking place. You will need to contact a registry office in order to do this – the process will be faster if you use the registry office in the area where the person died. Some hospitals have their own registry office and it is worth checking.
You will receive a Certificate of Registration of Death – better known as the ‘Death certificate’.
In the past, when someone died, you needed to contact various government organisations individually in order to tell them. The Tell Us Once service means you you can inform most Government organisations at once. You will receive a Tell Us Once reference number when you register the death, and they will tell you the next steps.
2. Investigate the Value of the Estate
In order to understand the assets of the deceased, and make decisions about inheritance tax, you need to value the estate. We have broken down for you below the key steps in valuing the estate.
Step 1: List and value possessions and assets
Make a list of all of the deceased person's possessions, and estimate the value of them. Contact all relevant banks, building societies, insurance companies and any other relevant organisations to obtain proper valuations of other assets. This includes stocks and shares, liabilities, and any payouts on life insurance.
Step 2: List and value joint assets
You need to list and value any joint assets. These are assets that the deceased person shared with another person e.g. a property bought in 2 persons' name. Estimate the sale value of these assets on the open market - then divide that value by 2.
Step 3: List and value gifts
Gifts made in the 7 years before a person's death need to be considered in the valuation of the estate. Monetary gifts are easy to value. Gifted possessions should be valued based on an estimate of their sale value on the open market.
3. Organise Inheritance Tax
Inheritance tax needs to be paid on estates valued at over £325,000. If the total valuation of the deceased’s estate, including gifts made in the last 7 years, exceeds £325,000 then you need to organise paying inheritance tax using a IHT400 form.
Even if the value of the estate is below the threshold, you will still need to complete an inheritance tax form (IHT205 tax form) confirming this. Completed IHT forms are required for filing in the probate application online.
You can find out everything that you need to know about inheritance tax from our Complete Guide to Inheritance Tax.
4. File the Probate Application
Once you have valued the estate, you need to file the probate application (the PA4P). This part of the probate process involves filling out a lot of forms.
If you want guidance while filling out the forms, you can contact the probate and inheritance tax helpline, who will guide you over the phone.
The probate application can be made online, or using paper forms.
Applying for Probate using Paper Forms
You will need to send them:
- PA4P probate application form
- The death certificate
- A completed inheritance tax form
- The original Will, and 3 copies
Applying for Probate Online
In order to fill out the online application form, you will need the following available to you:
- The death certificate
- A completed inheritance tax form
- The original Will
5. Pay Probate Fees
It costs £215 to apply for probate if the value of the estate is more than £5,000. Probate is free if the value is below £5,000. It costs £1.50 for each extra copy of the probate document that you order. Having multiple copies means you can send them to different organisations at the same time, speeding up the process of settling the will.
If you are considering writing a basic Will, you can do it using an online Will-writing service in less than 15 minutes. Read our guide to the Best Online Will-Writing Services.
What happens once probate is granted?
Once the grant of probate has been received, it is then possible to start the process of settling the deceased’s estate. This includes distributing payments to the appropriate beneficiaries in accordance with the terms of the Will (or the rules of intestacy if there is no Will).
You should also produce final estate accounts for the beneficiaries and a final tax return.
Probate Process Frequently Asked Questions
How long does the probate process take?
The whole process of probate can be fairly lengthy, taking several months. If the estate is fairly simple, then probate should be granted between 1 and 3 months after the application is submitted.
However, the process of distributing the estate afterwards can continue to take much longer after this.
How much does probate cost?
If you do not have help from a probate solicitor, the only fee that you have to pay is the £215 probate application fee. This only needs to be paid if the value of the estate is over £5,000
How can a solicitor help?
Getting help from a solicitor can be a particularly good idea if the estate is large and/or complicated. Solicitors can take on administering an entire estate on behalf of an executor or, for those clients who wish to deal with the estate administration themselves, they can provide a report of the steps required following an initial meeting with you. They can then provide advice as and when needed.
Can I apply for probate online?
Yes, you can apply for probate online.
Can multiple people apply for probate?
There are often multiple executors named in the Will, which can make it confusing to know who should apply for probate.
A maximum of 4 people can apply for a 'grant of probate' on behalf of the deceased.
Who applies for probate if there is no Will?
If there is no Will, then technically it is not a 'grant of probate' that needs to be applied for. When there is no Will, the next of kin will need to apply for a 'grant of letters of administration'.
You may find our Age Space podcast on probate very useful if you are trying to get to grips with it all. In discussion with Age Space founder Annabel James, our resident finance guru Jason Butler clearly explains what probate is, the process, inheritance tax and what you can do to prepare for probate.