What is probate?

Q: What is the purpose of probate?

A: Probate is the name given to a legal document obtained from HM Courts & Tribunal Service which allows the executor of a will to deal with the financial affairs of someone who has passed away, exactly as they instructed in their will.

Q: What is the role of the Executor?

A: The ‘executor’ is the person named in the will who must take on responsibility for ensuring that the financial affairs are settled appropriately. So, if the person who passed away owned financial assets held in a bank or insurance company, for example, the executor would apply for either a Grant of Probate or Letter of Administration to recover these assets. The same is true when recovering assets where an organisation pays into the deceased’s estate, such as an insurance company or pension provider.

Q: How do procedures change if there is no will?

A: If there is a will, the person who is named as the executor must apply to the Probate Division of the High Court to obtain probate (this is called Obtaining a Grant of Probate). Once granted, the executor will be able to recover all funds, resolve any outstanding debts, and distribute the estate as instructed in the will.

However, if someone passes away without leaving a will, this means that there is no executor and the deceased is described as ‘dying intestate’. This means that the estate will be distributed according to the rules of ‘intestacy’. An Estate Administrator will need to be appointed (also called a Personal Representative). This is an added complication as the estate will be subject to ‘intestacy rules’. Where there is no will an application will have to be made to the High Court for a Grant of Letters of Administration.

Q: What is the difference between a Grant of Probate and Grant of Letters of Administration?

A: A Grant of Probate is required when someone dies leaving a will and a Grant of Letters of Administration is required when someone dies intestate, that is, they have not left a will. They are two different types of Probate but the procedures to obtain are very similar, only the outcome and distribution is different.

Q: Is a will actually necessary?

A: Yes. If someone dies without a will it frequently causes problems for the deceased’s family. Instead of a named executor distributing the estate, the job of distributing any assets will go to someone decided by the courts. In the event that the court’s decision is challenged, this can lead to Contentious Probate, which can be time consuming, worrying and disruptive until it is resolved.

Q: Is obtaining a Letter of Administration straightforward?

A: Some people are unclear about the precise nature of this type of document. A Letter of Administration is required when someone dies without leaving a will. The preparation of these types of letters are not straightforward, requiring submission to the High Court Probate division, accompanied by details of the deceased’s estate, held by the Inland Revenue.

Q: What’s the minimum level of funds held by financial institutions requiring a Letter of Probate?

A: Financial institutions have a right to ask for probate for sums in excess of £5,000. However, the minimum level of funds where probate is required differs from institution to institution. For example, Santander Bank will allow access to up to £25,000 of the deceased’s estate subject to the signing of an indemnity form and the Post Office requires probate for sums in excess of £10,000 (sums current as of October 2016).

Call us on 020 8017 1029 to arrange a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our Probate Advisers. Enquiries can be made up until 10pm every day of the week – or you can send us an email if you prefer:

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