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Updated: 18 Jan 2022

Ask an expert: 'Why is my late mother's bank asking for probate when her estate was so small?'

Find out the limits above which different banks require a 'grant of probate'

Every week, Which?'s money experts answer your financial queries. You can submit your questions to money-letters@which.co.uk, or via our Facebook or Twitter pages.

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?

Supplied via the Which? Money Helpline.

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 inheritance tax liability are all responsibilities an executor of someone's estate, and in order to do this you'll often need to obtaina 'grant of probate' (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.

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. The service costs £199. See probate.which.co.uk or call 01992 825001 Monday to Friday 8.30am-6pm.

When do I need a grant of probate?

You said your mother had an uncomplicated estate, so you've decided to administer it on your own.

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.

ProviderProbate threshold
Bank of ScotlandFunds up to £50,000
BarclaysFunds up to £30,000
First DirectFunds up to £20,000
HalifaxFunds up to £50,000
HSBCDecided on a case by case basis
Lloyds BankFunds up to £50,000
M&S BankDecided on a case by case basis

How do I apply for grant of probate?

To apply for probate, there are four main steps to take: you need to complete the relevant probate application form (either PA1 in most of the UK or C1 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.

To get the full picture on the probate process, and what you need to do, read our free guides on probate.

And if you need support during the probate process, give Which? Legal Probate a call on01992 825001 to discuss your options.