Q. I'm trying to sort out my late mother's estate. Her affairs were straightforward as she had one bank account with a modest balance. However, the bank told me the balance was too high to avoid probate, meaning I'd have to pay the £215 fee. This seems very unfair. Can it insist on this?
A. Perhaps the last thing you want to be dealing with when a loved one has passed away is paperwork and finances, but it is often an inevitable part of what you need to do when someone dies.
Settling bills, gathering all the assets in someone's estate and paying any liability are all responsibilities an executor of someone's estate, and in order to do this you'll often need to obtaina (or 'confirmation' in Scotland), giving you the legal right to handle their affairs.
And whilemost banks will agree to make direct payments from the deceased's bank account to cover funeral expenses, any funds they have in their accounts normally remain frozen until you have been issued with a grant of probate.
Which? Legal Probate can help you through the entire probate process with comprehensive guidance and one-to-one, for a fixed fee. The service costs £199. See probate.which.co.uk or call 01992 825001 Monday to Friday 8.30am-6pm.
And while you say you were surprised that you needed a grant of probate (sometime's called a 'grant of representation') to access the funds in her bank account, it's often only avoidable for people with less than £5,000 in their estate, those who held savings jointly with a surviving spouse or civil partner, or estates that do not include land, property or shares.
In recent years, however, banks have sought to make the process easier for people dealing with a bereavement by increasing the amount they will release without needing a grant of probate.
But there are large variations in the limits at which banks require you to apply for probate. National Savings and Investments,for example, will insist on probate on balances of £5,000 and over, but other banks may release as much as £50,000 without it.
The table belowshows the thresholds at which different banks require a grant of probate.
|Bank of Scotland||Funds up to £50,000|
|Barclays||Funds up to £30,000|
|First Direct||Funds up to £20,000|
|Halifax||Funds up to £50,000|
|HSBC||Decided on a case by case basis|
|Lloyds Bank||Funds up to £50,000|
|M&S Bank||Decided on a case by case basis|
To apply for probate, there are four main steps to take: you need to complete the relevant probate application form (either in most of the UK or in Scotland), pay an administration fee, which is currently £215, complete an inheritance tax form and swear a formal oath.
For straightforward estates, where the net value is below the inheritance tax threshold and there are no complicating factors, such as foreign property, you should complete form IHT 205.
For estates where there is IHT to pay, or complicating factors such as foreignproperty, you must complete a full IHT 400 account and get this approved by HMRC.
Once the grant of probate has been issued, you can share a copy with the financial institutions holding your late mother's money to release the funds so that you can pay outstanding debts and taxes and distribute what's left to the people named in her will.