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When do you need to apply for probate?

Losing a loved one is never easy, especially when you’re trying to deal with their estate while grieving. In most cases when someone dies, the executors of the deceased’s Will would need to apply for probate. If someone doesn’t have a Will, then the closest living relative would usually apply. So when do you need to apply for probate and how does this process work? We share key points to help you understand what’s involved, so you’re prepared.

What is probate?

Probate is the process of administrating someone’s estate. A Grant of Probate is a document that gives people the legal right for someone to manage a deceased’s estate. If the person did not leave a Will, then ‘letters of administration’ will be issued. If the Will does not name an executor or they are too young to apply, then ‘letters of administration with will annexed’ will be used. An executor must be aged 18 or over to be able to apply for probate.

Estate administration can be very complicated. If you are looking to write a Will, make sure you appoint responsible people to be executors. If you need advice on making a Will or administering an estate, please speak to our expert solicitors.

How to apply for probate

Firstly, check whether you need to apply for probate, as there are a few instances when this isn’t needed (see next section). You will need to provide a report with an estimate of the estate value, which will determine whether there’s any Inheritance Tax (IHT) to pay. You might need to wait for around 20 days for IHT documentation before applying for probate.

Getting an estate valuation involves contacting all relevant financial organisations connected to the deceased, including banks, investment firms and mortgage providers. You will then need to calculate any money in the estate and owed to the estate. You will also need to make a detailed list of any debts, property and possessions. There are various documents required by HM Revenue and Customs and the probate registry.

Once you have valued the estate, you can apply for probate online or by post or a probate solicitor can apply on your behalf. You will need to send the original Will with your probate application. This will become a public record in the probate registry.

When you don’t need to apply for probate

Below are a few examples of when you won’t need to apply for probate:

  • If someone has passed away and everything they owned – money, shares and property - was held jointly with a living person, such as a spouse or a civil partner.

  • If someone owned property or land as a ‘joint tenant’ – in most cases, this would pass to the surviving owners, but always check for any other arrangements.

  • If someone only had savings, but you will need to check with the bank or building society as organisations have their own probate rules.

What happens after probate is granted?

Once probate has been granted, it will enable you to get access to the deceased’s assets, such as bank accounts, savings, investments and their mortgage. You will need to collect money belonging to the estate, including any pensions and insurance policies. You will then need to distribute the estate to all beneficiaries according to the deceased’s Will.

As the executor, you will be responsible for paying off any outstanding debts, taxes and legal fees, as well as dealing with their National Insurance. You will need to contact all relevant government offices relating to the deceased, including any that are paying benefits.

There is a service called Tell Us Once, which enables you to contact several government departments at the same time. This can help to reduce the emotional stress of having to repeatedly tell organisations that a loved one has died.

It can take anywhere between 4 – 16 weeks to receive a grant of probate or letters of administration, after an online application has been submitted. Paper applications take between 9 and 23 weeks. It’s worth bearing in mind that it may take several months after you receive a grant of probate to distribute the estate to all the beneficiaries of the Will.

Our specialist Wills, Trusts and Probate solicitors can advise you on every aspect of dealing with a deceased’s estate. Our caring and sympathetic team will help you navigate the complexities of probate, so you can focus on dealing with the grief of losing a loved one.

If you need advice on Probate, please get in touch or email: to arrange a face-to-face or telephone appointment.


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