What do you need to know about Probate?

4 January 2021

The word probate is familiar to most people but often, although they associate it with administering someone’s estate following their death, many people don’t really understand what’s involved until they experience a bereavement.

The loss of a loved one can be a very stressful and emotional time. Getting to grips with probate during this period can be a little overwhelming, so this blog aims to outline what you need to know about this tricky subject.

What is Probate?

The word “Probate” means proving the will and is the legal process of ensuring that a person’s financial affairs are tied up properly following their death, enabling beneficiaries to receive their inheritance.

It is not always necessary; in scenarios where all property was owned jointly with a spouse or civil partner and the deceased has left a will bequeathing all monies to them, probate may not be required.

If the will names multiple beneficiaries, or if there is no valid will in place, probate may be necessary in settling the estate that your loved one has left behind.

What does Probate involve?

Probate is a legal process and must be carried out on a formal basis. For this reason, many bereaved families prefer to enlist the help of a solicitor or a legal professional, in order to guide them through it and ensure that the proper documentation is in place. This can often reduce the level of time and stress involved in settling a loved one’s estate.

It is possible to administer an estate without professional help, but it is recommended you follow the full legal process, which can be difficult without expert guidance, particularly for larger or more complex estates.

To begin the probate process, you must apply for a ‘grant of representation’, which provides the authority required to ensure a person’s belongings and financial assets are distributed amongst their beneficiaries. If the deceased left a will, the executors nominated in the will need to apply for a grant of probate. If they did not leave a will, their next of kin has to apply for a grant of letters of administration. The terminology and legal process used in Scotland is different from England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but the process of administering an estate following the death of a loved has to be carried out through a similar legal process called ‘confirmation’.

With the required documentation in place, the steps required can be summarised as collate, settle, distribute:

Collate – the first stage of probate is to identify and gather any assets, such as money in bank accounts, savings or investments. This includes closing any accounts and claiming on any life insurance policies and there may be some detective work to be done to find out what money is held where.

Settle – Once the deceased’s financial assets have been identified and released by the bank or investment fund, any outstanding bills or debts must be paid. This may include household bills, loan agreements or credit cards. It also includes inheritance tax, which is currently applicable to estates valued at more than £325,000, unless any amount above this figure is bequeathed to a spouse, civil partner, charity or community sports club.

Distribute – All assets remaining after bills, debts and tax have been paid can then be distributed to the deceased’s beneficiaries. Where there is a will in place, this involves ensuring that the stipulations in the will are carried out as closely as possible. Where there is no will, the estate must be distributed in accordance with the rules of intestacy, which can be both complicated cause disputes amongst family members, particularly if the deceased had promised items or sums of money verbally, without setting their wishes out in a legally witnessed will.

How much does Probate cost?

The cost and time involved in probate can vary significantly due to the number of factors involved, such as whether or not there is a will, how much the estate is worth and the complexity of the estate.

For small and straightforward estates, many people choose to administer probate themselves. You may need a grant of probate for estates totalling less than £5,000, however, grant of probate applications are free. For estates greater than £5000, the grant of probate application fee costs £215, or £155 if done through a solicitor or legal professional.

Often people struggling with the stress and emotional impact of losing a loved one prefer to engage a professional to manage the estate through probate. It can be daunting to have to learn what’s involved in probate while coping with grief and dealing with other responsibilities, such as arranging a funeral and sorting through personal effects, so asking a third party to handle it can be a relief.

For larger and more complex estates, or estates where there is potential for conflict, it is advisable to work with a legal professional or solicitor. This will ensure that probate is carried out correctly, avoiding unnecessary delays and mistakes that could potentially reduce your inheritance.

The cost of engaging a legal professional or solicitor will depend on the complexity of the probate process but the fee structure should be transparent. You may be able to agree a fixed fee or a fee based on a percentage of your inheritance when the estate has been settled.

Getting started

Inheriting a loved one’s assets is often a challenging aspect of bereavement to come to terms with because it seems very final and many people struggle emotionally with the idea of benefitting financially from their loss. Settling a loved one’s estate can be a useful stage in processing loss, however, along with a necessary step in dealing with the practicalities of bereavement.

If you choose to engage a third party to help you through probate, Adroit can help you by recommending an organisation from our vetted and monitored panel of providers.  This ensures that the person working with you is qualified to help and accountable for charging a reasonable fee.

It’s a tough topic to deal with at a vulnerable time in your life so, whether you work with a third party or decide to go it alone, the most important advice is to make the right choice for you.