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What is probate?

By Ian Robinson

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What is probate?

Understand the process you'll need to go when dealing with the estate of someone who has died.

What is probate?

Probate is the legal process for dealing with the estate of someone who has died. It's the responsibility of the executors named in their will. In most cases, these will be family or friends of the deceased (lay executors), but some people appoint professional executors (a solicitor or will writer). Professional executors will expect to be paid from the proceeds of the estate for acting in this capacity. They normally carry out the entire probate process and receive a fee for this, too.   

Lay executors may choose to appoint a professional (normally a probate solicitor) to carry out probate on their behalf, or they can opt for DIY probate, where they fill in the relevant forms and deal with the Probate Registry directly. This is quite common, although professional assistance may be essential for complicated estates. DIY probate is far cheaper, but very time consuming.   

Need help with probate?

Which? Legal Probate can help you through the entire probate process with comprehensive guidance and one-to-one, expert help from our trained probate specialists for a fixed fee. See probate.which.co.uk or call 01992 825001 Monday to Friday 8.30am-6pm.

Probate checklist

Find out precisely what you need to do with our downloadable probate checklist.

Your essential probate checklist

Breaks down every stage of the process into manageable tasks.


The probate process

If you're the executor of the will, you'll usually have to obtain a grant of probate. However, this may not be necessary for estates of less than £15,000, or if the assets were held jointly and are passing to a surviving spouse or civil partner.

If you do need to carry out probate, the first step is to assess the size of the estate (work out how much has been left) and apply for a grant of probate

The second stage in the probate process is the administration of the estate, where executors gather in and and distribute assets in accordance with the will. This can only be undertaken once a grant of probate or letters of administration have been obtained. In Scotland, the process is called confirmation.


  • Last updated: January 2017
  • Updated by: Tom Wilson

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