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Grant of Probate UK Guide

What is a Grant of Probate?

Probate is the generic term used to indicate the legal proof that a person has been validly appointed as an Executor of a Will and is willing and able to administer the estate of a person who has died leaving a valid Will. It confirms the authority granted by their appointment in the Will, which exists immediately following the death of the person who created the Will. In Scotland a significantly different process is known as Confirmation.

The information on this page applies in full to England and Wales. Check the differences that apply to a Grant of Probate in Northern Ireland and Probate (Confirmation) in Scotland.

A PDF leaflet version of UK probate is available here to print.

Sometimes referred to simply as a Grant of Probate, the precise type of Grant that is issued depends on the exact circumstances of the situation and who is taking out the Grant. 

There are many types of Grant and the correct term which covers all the types is a Grant of Representation, the generic term referring to proof of authority to deal with the estate.

Where there is no valid Will the correct term is a Grant of Letters of Administration; if there is a valid Will but no person named who is willing or able to apply for it, e.g. the named executors have died, the Grant will be a Grant of Letters of Administration with the Will Annexed.

Benefits of a Grant of Probate

A Grant of Probate is the only type of Grant that confirms the validity of the Will and authority for the Executor to administer the estate in accordance with the terms of the Will. Any other type of Grant confers the authority to act as the personal representative (executor or administrator) act before the Grant is issued.

Although the Grant of Probate simply confirms authority on the executor, in practice it is often necessary to wait for the Grant to be issued as the asset holders may refuse to release funds to enable the estate to be administered until they have had sight of the Grant. This will be determined by the organisations’ own rules and thresholds and other aspects of the composition of the estate.

Where there is a need to apply for a Grant there is a strict process consisting of a number of steps which needed to be followed correctly.

When do you need a Grant of Probate?

If the estate is small (below about £10,000) or an asset holder exercises their discretion not to insist on sight of a Grant, whatever the value of the estate, then it may be possible to access all funds and complete the administration of the estate without applying for a Grant of Probate. (Note: some insurance companies insist on a Grant for any amount over £5,000). Similarly if all the assets are jointly held and so pass by survivorship to the other joint owner/s no Grant is needed.

It is not strictly necessary to have a Grant of Representation for a lump sum under a life assurance if the policy has been assigned to a third party (a nominated beneficiary) but Life Companies do sometimes insist on seeing a Grant in addition to the death certificate and identification documents for the person making the claim. As these are quite often policies which pay out small amounts, just a few thousand pounds, it may be possible to approach the company to pay the funeral expenses directly to the funeral director. This often reduces the balance to be paid to below the company’s threshold for a probate request, so the need for a Grant is avoided.

Similarly Death in Service benefits, where there has been a nomination in favour of a third party, can be paid out without sight of a Grant, provided the Trustees of the scheme agree the payment. 

Dependents’ pensions can also be started before a Grant is issued. However some Companies insist on seeing it as proof to protect themselves from paying out incorrectly.

There is considerable inconsistency between organisations with what the individual asset holders and organisations require, so it is always best when writing for valuations and information, to ask whether or not they will need to see a Grant before paying out. While this can be very frustrating, the asset holders would argue that they have been entrusted with the money and they need to be completely certain that they are making a payment to the appropriate person.

Grant of Probate FAQs

In principle, the Grant should be issued within 2-4 weeks of an application to the Probate Registry. In mid 2022 it was taking up to 8 weeks. There may be further delays if it is not a straightforward application, certain documents are missing or the application itself requires more information before it can be processed. Occasionally the application gets lost!

As stated earlier, this depends on the type of Grant needed, the time it takes to pull together all the necessary details of the estate including all assets and outstanding debts, and how long it takes to submit the application to HMCTS.
A simple application should lead to a Grant within the month, although currently taking approximately 8 weeks, a more complex one, or one where further information is requested by the Probate Registry, may take many more weeks and even months to issue.
An online application is always quicker than a paper application. The government website has a help service online to support your application if you need this assistance.

The person/s named in the valid Will as the executor/s apply for the Grant of Probate provided they are willing and able to act. If some are unwilling or unable but there remains at least one executor who is willing and able then the application can be made by that person or those people also appointed.

If there is no Will or no valid Will, or if there is no-one who is willing and able to apply for the Grant, either someone due to inherit under the valid WIll can apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration with the WIll annexed. If there is no will or the will is not valid, the persons entitled to receive the estate can apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration. Proof must be provided if the person entitled to apply is not applying either because they lack capacity or do not wish to act. Then it is important to provide evidence in the application of this so the court service (HMCTS) can make sure that no one is being overlooked who would otherwise be willing and able to act and apply for a Grant.

A solicitor is not needed for an application for a Grant but where the circumstances are not straightforward, or Inheritance Tax is relevant or the composition and valuation of the estate is complex, or where there is a strong possibility of a legal challenge against the estate it is advisable to seek legal help at the earliest opportunity. 

With complex families on the rise, estranged family member excluded from benefiting under any WIll, unmarried partners not due to inherit or out of date Wills, or even dubious circumstances surrounding the making of a WIll, it is highly recommended that legal advice is taken and if necessary a specialist probate solicitor is used to help with the application for a Grant and administration of the estate. That solicitor may well have the letters TEP after their name to indicate they are both experienced and qualified in the law of probate and administration. It signifies passing of further rigorous exams in this area of law and that they are members of an international body known as STEP (Society of Trusts and Estates Practitioners).

Whilst it may appear on the face of it to be cheaper to make the application yourself without a solicitor, this may prove more costly in the long run if matters become delayed, are thrown out or contested. If there is any chance of the matter being challenged it is always worth consulting with a solicitor who carries the letters ACTAPS (Association of Contested Trusts and Probate Practitioners) as they will have a wealth of knowledge and experience in this challenging area of law and may help you decide your course of action thereby saving you possibly many months and even years of unnecessary heartache. Unless you are clear that the estate is straightforward and there are no likely challenges, it might be useful to at least talk things through with a solicitor first.

A Grant of Probate is not necessarily needed whether or not there is a valid WIll. It all depends on the value and composition of the estate and the attitude taken by individual asset holders.

Due to an inconsistent approach and a lack of clarity as to what the individual institutions require to pay out, it is always best when writing for valuations and information, to ask whether or not they will need to see a Grant before paying out. 

A Grant of Probate will always be needed when there is Inheritance Tax payable, when the estate is over £10,000 (unless the asset holder agrees to release funds without needing a Grant) and where the estate includes land or a property. This applies if there is a valid WIll or not.

Not all executors wish to have the job of winding up an estate and it is possible to refuse to do this by renouncing probate. This is done formally on a document stating you have not had any dealings with the estate and do not wish to have any future involvement. This Is only possible if you have not “intermeddled” in the estate. This means you should not have formally indicated to any institution, such as banks, insurance companies, pension plans, etc that you are an executor, normust you have received any of the deceased person’s funds or paid any of their bills. Such action will be said to have deprived you of the rights to renounce and you will be required to act as such. However, merely taking advice does not constitute intermeddling.

If you renounce, you cannot then later change your mind. Also, you cannot choose who then takes out the Grant, You simply step out of the picture.
If you don’t want to be involved in the estate at the moment but think you may in the future, for example you might be going away or into hospital for a significant period of time, or there maybe others reasons why the timing isn’t right at the moment, you can choose to have “power reserved” to you to be added to the Grant at a future time. This would mean a further application when you wish to be added back in and this would be further costs and delays to the estate administration.

How to get a Grant of Probate

England and Wales

There is no fee payable for a first application for a Grant and the estate is less than £5,000 [as of September 2022].

To apply for a Grant (all types) for an estate above £5,000 there is a fee payable to the His Majesty’s Court Service of £273, represented by a Probate Registry office. This covers the cost of the process and the issue of the Grant. . Asset holders may ask to see a ‘sealed office copy’ of the grant rather than a photocopy, although some will accept an electronic scan of the original. These sealed office copies should be ordered with your application for the Grant as the cost is just £1.50 per copy, but increases to £20 a copy if you ask for them later. 

Make sure you keep the original Grant (unless you are using a solicitor) as copies sent to other organisations do sometimes get lost.

If you cannot afford the fee, It may be possible to obtain help by completing a Form EX160. Information on Form EX160 can be accessed on the UK Government website. If your claim is successful, your fee will be refunded as you must pay the application fee for the Grant upfront.

Where there is a need to apply for a Grant in Scotland and Northern Ireland, please refer to the links below.

Online applications are quicker

It is recommend you to make the application online if at all possible, as the process is quicker. You must make sure you have all the relevant information with you at the time of applying including details of the deceased person, the original Will (and any Codicils if relevant), death certificate, and full names and addresses of anyone applying. The details needed are stated on the government website. 

Do read all the guidance notes as well; they really are helpful. You also need to ensure you have a good copy of the Will (with no notes or marks written on it) as you need to send the original Will to the Probate Registry together with any Codicils and a death certificate. Obviously you need to keep a copy of the Will so you have the instructions for how the estate is to be administered. 

We would suggest you ask a solicitor to make one or two ‘certified copies’. This means they will take a photocopy and stamp it as a genuine copy made by themselves. This will be accepted by most organisations (not the Probate Registry) as the equivalent of the original Will.

Paying inheritance tax and related forms

If there is Inheritance Tax to pay this must be paid to His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs at least 20 working days before the Grant can be applied for.

The Will and any Codicil/s become a public document and they are retained by the Probate Registry. This is why you sometimes see details of the Wills of well known people published in the media. The death certificate submitted with your application will be returned to you.

Until the beginning of 2022, you still needed to complete an IHT 205 to prove to HMRC that no IHT needed to be paid. This form has now been abolished and you can just apply for the grant of probate/letters of administration. [as of September 2022]

Getting help

Contact the National Bereavement Service if you need probate assistance. Advisers will help you make sense of the practical complexities of bereavement.

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