Applying for a grant of probate
If you're dealing with the estate of someone who has died, you need to obtain what's known as a 'grant of probate' before you can distribute their assets as set out in their will. If you’re in Scotland, the process is similar but called Grant of Representation.
Before you can start, you need to establish your authority to act as the deceased's executor. To do this you need the original will to send to the Probate Office. This may involve a visit to the solicitor who prepared it, if they have been holding it for the deceased.
Unless the solicitor is named as co-executor, you are not obliged to use their probate services. You can shop around for your own probate solicitor - or opt for DIY probate.
Assessing the estate
Each institution should be sent a certified copy of the death certificate and asked to submit a final statement. Banks should pay out funeral expenses straight away, but most assets remain frozen until you have formally been granted probate.
Many estates include a property, which also needs to be valued. You can do this yourself, by comparison with others nearby, but if inheritance tax (IHT) is likely to be an issue (the current threshold, or 'nil-rate band', is £325,000) a written valuation by an estate agent or surveyor will make dealing with HMRC far more straightforward if they challenge your figure as being too low.
Find out more: valuing a property - read our step-by-step guide to working out how much a property is worth
Filing probate forms
After assessing the size and composition of the estate, you should be in a position to complete a probate application form. You need to apply to the Personal Application Department of the Probate Registry for this.
- The form is called a PA1 form.
- In Scotland you apply for Confirmation by sending the forms to the Sheriff Court.
- The forms are called C1 and C5.
Inheritance tax forms
You are also required to submit a form to HMRC to establish whether any inheritance tax needs to be paid. There are two alternative forms to complete (these are used in Scotland too):
As well as the value of the estate at the time of death, HMRC requires details of cash gifts made by the deceased in the seven years prior to death. These can increase the value of the estate for inheritance tax and need to be accounted for carefully.
If the deceased was the surviving spouse or civil partner of someone who died earlier, it is possible to apply for any unused IHT allowance from their partner to be added to their own. For some estates this can boost the nil-rate band to £650,000. To claim additional allowance, executors must complete another form:
- The forms are called C1 and C5.
- IHT 205 if the estate is below the IHT threshold (currently £325,000)
- IHT 400 if the estate is above the IHT threshold, or has complicating factors such as overseas property
- IHT 217 if the estate is below the IHT threshold
- IHT 402 if the estate is above the threshold
Find out more: inheritance tax explained - get to grips with IHT rules and how to manage them
Need help managing probate?
If you're not sure where to start, don't panic - our step-by-step probate checklist can guide you through the process.
Contacting the Probate Registry
Once the forms are completed, you send them, with the original will and the death certificate to the Probate Registry.
As well as supplying the right paperwork, you need to swear an executor’s oath (that the details you’ve provided are correct). This can be at your nearest Probate Registry or a local solicitor’s office. A solicitor will charge a small fee for administering the oath, but using one may be faster than waiting for an appointment at the Registry, where opening hours are often restricted.
Paying probate fees
The probate application fee in England and Wales is £215, regardless of the size of the estate. The fee is slightly lower - £155 if you apply through a solicitor.
In Northern Ireland fees are £220, and in Scotland the fee is £200. The only exemption is for estates worth less than £5,000, where the fee is waived, wherever you are in the UK.
Additional copies of the grant can be ordered for 50p each. Multiple copies are essential for the administration process - it's normal to order at least five.
Obtaining a grant of probate
Assuming everything is in order, and HMRC accepts your valuation of the estate, there is still one hurdle left before probate can be granted: if IHT is due, this must be paid in advance. If there are sufficient funds in one of the deceased’s bank accounts, it may be possible to arrange a direct payment to HMRC.
Most UK banks permit this on receipt of an IHT 423 form. It’s also worth noting that where the major asset of the estate is a property or shares, HMRC will accept IHT in instalments, and only require a tenth of the total in advance.
Once you have been granted probate, you should also consider placing a deceased estate notice in the The Gazette asking any unidentified creditors to come forward. If you don't, you may be held personally liable for any of the estate's unidentified debts.