Understanding probate

31 October 2019

When a loved one dies, families face dealing not only with the emotional impact, but also the potential minefield of legal and administrative processes.

Probate is the legal process of gaining the right to deal with their money, property and possessions. Before you can start this process, you need to register the death as you will need original copies of the death certificate when dealing with institutions such as banks and insurance companies.

If your loved one left a will, the Grant of Probate gives the Executor of the will the authority to distribute their assets in accordance with the wishes in the will. The Executor is likely to be named in the will and is usually a close relative, friend or a professional such as a solicitor.

The application for a Grant of Probate must be made by, or on behalf of, the Executor (or one of the Executors if there are more than one) The probate application form PA1P can be completed online or posted to the Probate Registry.

If there is no will, the process is more complicated and there are strict rules about who can become the Administrator of the estate. This will usually be the closest relative, who will apply to be granted Letters of Administration using form PA1A. The Administrator essentially performs a similar role to an Executor but has no will to act on. (If you are in doubt about who has the right to act as administrator, you can refer to the Rules of Intestacy.)

Probate is the same for residents of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but in Scotland it’s called ‘confirmation’. The Executor/Administrator must provide an inventory of all the deceased’s property at the time of death when applying to the Sheriff Court for confirmation.

The Executor/Administrator needs to notify banks and government departments of the person’s death and ensure any outstanding bills and debts are paid. The Government’s ‘Tell Us Once’ service simplifies the process of informing the Department for Work and Pensions, HMRC, the DVLA, the Passport Office and the local council.

A relatively new UK-wide service called the Death Notification Service works in a similar way to ‘Tell Us Once’ and covers the major banks, many building societies and other financial institutions. Set up by trade association UK Finance and major banks, it reports the death to multiple organisations by filling in one online form.

For free practical, independent guidance about probate, or any other support required following the loss of a loved one, contact the National Bereavement Service on 0808 164 2239.

A spokesperson for the National Bereavement Service explained:

“We want to ensure everyone has someone to turn to when they need it most. We recognise that it’s not always easy to get practical help and support at such an overwhelming time and we are on hand when it matters most.”