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23 Jan 2019

Online probate application system launches

Executors can now apply for probate without having to visit a probate registry or solicitor's office

People dealing with the estate of a loved one can now apply for probate from home, as HM Courts & Tribunals (HMCTS) has rolled out its online application service.

The service allows people to apply, pay and swear a statement of truth online, and will hopefully make the process quicker and easier.

Until now, if you were named as an executor, you were required to visit a probate registry or solicitor's officeto obtain permission to deal with the estate and wind up the deceased's affairs.

HMCTS says that the service has already been trialed 'by invitation', and 93% of the people who have used it to date said they were satisfied with the service. HMCTS first trialed its online probate service in September 2017.

Currently, the service is only available where the deceased left a will, but will be expanded to include people who died without a will in future.

  • Need help with probate? Download our free checklist from Which? Legal Probate to help you through the process

'It was so much simpler than I thought it would be'

Paul Taylor, 70, used the online service when he was settling the affairs of a family member as the sole executor.

'I'd started the whole process of dealing with the estate online HMRC. It was so much simpler than I thought it would be. It made my time dealing with my aunt's estate so much easier.

'I'd been expecting sheets and sheets of questions - but that wasn't the case. The instructions were clearly written and the way everything was set out was so user friendly. I think it took a couple of hours to complete.'

Though the application process is online, some documents, such as the will and death certificate still need to be physically posted.

'I could do it all from home in front of the computer,' says Mr Taylor. 'I sent all the supporting documents and then a lady rang me within 7 days as there was a small problem with the will, but I had the grant of probate within about two weeks.'

'If you don't live near a probate registry, being able to complete a statement of truth online makes life easier.

'I imagined I'd have to go to either Liverpool or Manchester to swear an oath. IT's about a 45-minute drive to either city and then I'd have to find somewhere to park the car. It would have taken at least half a day in total to drive there, get to the office, attend an appointment then drive home.'

Probate fees to rise in April

The introduction of online services will be helpful for any executors trying to complete probate before April 2019, when fees will rocketto thousands of pounds for many estates.

Currently, probate applications cost £215, but are waived if the estate is worth less than £5,000.

Under the new system, estates worth less than £50,000 will pay nothing, but everyone else will pay far more:

Value of estate (before inheritance tax)New fee
Up to £50,000£0
£50,001 - £300,000£250
£300,001 - £500,00£750
£500,001 - £1,000,000£2,500
£1,000,001 - £1,600,000£4,000
£1,600,001 - £2,000,000£5,000
£2,000,001 +£6,000

What is probate?

Probate is the process of obtaining the right to administer someone's estate, after they pass away. In Scotland, the process is called grant of confirmation.

Once probate is granted, the executor has permission to gather someone's assets, settle their debts and distribute them to the named beneficiaries in the will, or under the intestacy rules if they died without a will.

Confusingly, 'probate' can also refer to the whole process of administering someone's estate too.

You can find out more in our free guide to probate.