When someone dies, it will be necessary for their assets (known collectively as their ‘Estate’) to be administered according to the laws of probate. But what exactly is probate? What does the process involve? And do you need legal help from a probate solicitor?

What is Probate?

Probate is the process in which someone applies for the right to deal with a deceased person’s estate. If there is a valid Will, it will be the executor who applies for a grant of probate. Once issued, the executor will then have the authority to administer the deceased’s estate. On other hand if there is no Will, or an executor does not wish to take on the responsibility, then someone else (such as a family member) can apply for letters of administration. If granted, he/she becomes the administrator of the estate and has the same powers as an executor.

What does the probate process involve?

The probate process will vary depending upon the circumstances of the deceased person. Ordinarily, however, the probate process can be broken down into three stages:-

1. Applying for a Grant of Probate

The first step for an executor is to obtain a Grant of Probate (or letters of administration if there are no named executors). This will be necessary after all deaths, except where:-

  • The deceased’s Estate totals less than £5000;
  • The deceased owned everything jointly with someone else, in which case everything will pass automatically to the surviving joint owner.

In order to get a grant, an executor or administrator must fill out the relevant forms and send them to the local Probate Registry office, along with the fee. The type of forms will vary according to where in the country the deceased person lived, and whether or not inheritance tax is likely to be due. Within 10 days of your application being received, you will be given an appointment for an interview. If everything is found to be in order during the interview, you will be sent a Grant of Probate. You are then officially a ‘personal representative’ (PR) of the deceased’s estate, giving you the power to administer the estate.

2. Administration of the Estate

Once you have a grant of probate, you can then continue with the process of estate administration. This involves paying any outstanding debts of the deceased, collecting money he/she was owed and paying inheritance tax if necessary.

3. Distributing the Estate

The last step is to distribute the deceased’s estate according to the terms set out in the Will or, if there is no Will, according to the rules of intestacy.

Do you need legal help?

It is possible to undertake the probate process on your own, without the assistance of a lawyer. However, it can be complicated and time-consuming, particularly as there are many legal technicalities and intricacies involved. That is why many people instruct a probate solicitor whose professional help and guidance will ensure any legal pitfalls are avoided. This will undoubtedly make the entire process less stressful, as you can rely upon someone else during this upsetting time.

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