A few key terms
- Dying intestate – dying without leaving a will
- The executor – the person responsible for dealing with the estate. There may be more than one.
- The administrator – the person responsible for dealing with the estate if someone dies without making a will
- Probate – a grant of probate gives a person the authority to deal with the estate of someone who has died
- Letters of administration – authority to deal with the estate if someone dies without leaving a will
- An insolvent estate – an estate without enough money to pay all the outstanding debts, taxes and expenses
If there’s a will
If there’s a will, this should say who the executor is and how the estate should be divided. The executor should apply for probate - see below.
If there isn’t a will
If there isn’t a will, there won’t be a named executor so an administrator will be appointed instead. If you’re the person’s next of kin, you may be able to apply to be the administrator. There is a strict order of priority of who can do this – read the government guide on ‘How to obtain probate’ (PDF) for more information.
The administrator should apply for letters of administration. The process is the same as applying for probate – see below. Start by filling in a probate application form (form PA1), available from Gov.uk or by phoning the HMRC Probate and Inheritance Tax Helpline on 0300 123 1072.
The estate will be divided according to certain laws called intestacy rules.
Before you can apply for probate, you’ll need to value the estate. You can then work out whether Inheritance Tax needs to be paid – it usually does if the estate is worth more than £325,000. Inheritance Tax is charged at 40%. It should usually be paid within six months of the end of the month that the person died in. After that, you’ll be charged interest. At least some of it will need to be paid before probate or letters of administration can be granted.
Call the Inheritance Tax Helpline on 0300 123 1072 for advice or visit Gov.uk for more information.
Applying for probate
The executor is responsible for getting probate – they can do this themselves or use a solicitor or other probate specialist. Many people get probate without using a probate specialist, but it may be best to use one if the estate is complicated. If you’re getting probate yourself, the Money Advice Service has a useful guide.
If you’re using a probate specialist, they will charge a fee. You can search for a probate specialist through the Law Society (020 7320 5650, solicitors.lawsociety.org.uk).
To apply for probate you’ll need to:
- complete a probate application form - these are available from Gov.uk or by phoning the HMRC Probate and Inheritance Tax Helpline on 0300 123 1072. Alternatively, you may be able to apply for probate online
- complete an Inheritance Tax form – you’ll need to fill in either a short form or a long form depending on whether Inheritance Tax is due. Gov.uk has more advice on Inheritance Tax forms or call the HMRC Probate and Inheritance Tax Helpline on 0300 123 1072.
Send your application to the local Probate Registry. The probate application form tells you what else you need to include with your application. Keep copies of everything you send. There is an application fee of £215 if the estate is worth over £5,000.
Once they’ve received your application, the Probate Registry will arrange for you to attend an interview to swear an oath, promising that the information you’ve given is true to the best of your knowledge. When you’ve done this, you’ll be sent a letter telling you if there is any Inheritance Tax still to pay. Once this has been paid, the grant of probate or letters of administration will be sent to you through the post.
Once probate has been granted
Once you’ve been granted probate, you’ll need to contact the organisations that hold the assets of the person who died – for example, their bank, building society, or pension provider. They will then release the assets. They’ll ask you for a copy of the grant of probate or letters of administration.
It’s usually a good idea to set up a separate executor’s bank account in which to collect the assets. You’ll then need to:
- pay any debts, including tax owed and outstanding bills
- distribute the estate, according to the will, or intestacy rules if there is no will
- prepare the estate accounts. They will need to be signed off by you and the main beneficiaries.
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