Applying For Probate: A Step-By-Step Guide To The Process

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When a close friend or loved family member dies, dealing with their estate is necessary to ensure the administrative process, known as probate, is complete. Often involving lots of paperwork, the potential sale of property, and legal, tax, and financial issues to get to grips with, it can be a challenging and emotional task. This guide will give you information on what’s involved and how to apply for probate.

What is probate?

In England and Wales, probate is the term used for the legal and financial process and documentation needed to deal with a person’s estate after their death. It’s a legal process required as part of the deceased’s estate planning and administration and involves dealing with any property, money and possessions – collectively known as assets – that are left behind.

Probate will also prove their Will is valid and confirms who has the legal authority to act as executor(s) on their behalf to confirm what any named benefactors will inherit. If a Will has been left, the executor(s) will need to apply for a grant of probate giving them the legal right to manage the estate. If there is no Will, or the Will is invalid, the estate is shared using intestacy rules where only certain people, usually the closest living relative, can inherit.

How long does probate take?

Probate can be complicated and time-consuming, involving many different organisations, individuals, and government departments. On average, the probate process can take around 9-12 months to settle an estate fully. This rough time frame will include all submitted application paperwork, estate valuations, and any payments due. 

But sometimes, the process isn’t straightforward, and probate can take longer. This can be the case especially if there are properties to sell, disputes between beneficiaries or executors, complex Inheritance, Income, or Capital Gains Tax issues – or delays due to a combination of any of these. 

However, every probate case is different, and yours may go through the system more quickly, especially if it’s genuinely straightforward. But it’s worth noting that the probate process will take the same amount of time whether a Will is left or not.

When you choose MJR Solicitors for estate planning and to complete the probate application on your behalf, we’ll ensure the process is completed as quickly as possible for you with minimum delay, wherever possible.

How to apply for probate

Before applying for probate, you’ll need to check whether it’s needed and if you can apply. Probate is usually only required if the estate’s value is worth more than £5,000 after funeral expenses. And only certain people can apply for probate, namely the executor(s) of the Will or the closest living relative if there’s no Will.

There’s no legal time limit for applying for probate, settling an estate, or starting the probate process after death. However, most of the estate administration process can’t begin without it, so it’s worth getting started as soon as possible.

If probate is needed, and you’re eligible to start the process, you can apply for probate yourself online at the gov.uk website or by completing the application form and sending it to the HMCTS Probate office. 

The other alternative is to use the services of an experienced estate administrator like MJR Solicitors, who can begin and complete the process on your behalf. This is the best option for many as it lets you control how much or how little a solicitor does for you and ensures everything is done correctly and as quickly as possible.

A step-by-step probate application process

Though, in some cases, there may be multiple layers to each step, some more complicated than others, here’s a breakdown of how to apply for probate, giving you an idea of what’s involved – and how MJR Solicitors can help you:

Register the death

Before applying for probate, you need to register the death at the local register office where the death occurred. This should happen within five days of the death in England and Wales or eight days in Scotland unless a Coroner’s report delays the process. Once registered, you’ll receive a Certificate of Registration of Death (a death certificate). 

​​Remember, you’ll need a copy of the death certificate for each of the deceased’s assets (one for the bank or building society, pension provider, and so on). These must be official copies and can be requested at the time to save time and money – it can be more expensive to get extra copies later on.

Valuing the estate

To get the estate’s total value, you need to calculate the collective value of the assets left behind and any outstanding debts. Possessions and assets should be listed first as these are likely to be of the highest value and can include property, possessions, savings, shares, or other finances.

Then, if necessary, list and value any joint assets, such as a home owned in two people’s names, followed by financial gifts given to anyone over the last seven years.

Pay Inheritance Tax 

If the total value of the deceased’s estate is over £325,000 after outstanding debts are paid, you’ll need to pay Inheritance Tax (IHT) before probate is issued. Whatever amount is owed depends on the value, but IHT can be as much as 40%. However, there are circumstances where less or even no IHT will be payable. IHT can be a complicated area, but you can read about what IHT means for you

File probate application forms

Once the estate is valued and IHT paid, the probate application forms should be completed and submitted. How to apply for probate depends on your preference and can be done online or by traditional paperwork. But the process involves a lot of form-filling and can be confusing, so an estate administration expert like MJR Solicitors can help you.

If applying using paper forms, you’ll need:

  • The probate application form (PA4P)
  • The death certificate
  • A completed Inheritance Tax form (IHT400)
  • The original Will plus three copies

If applying online, you’ll need:

  • The death certificate
  • A completed Inheritance Tax form (IHT400)
  • The original Will

Paying probate fees

There are also standard fees for probate set by the government, but whether you need to pay depends on the estate’s value. If the value is over £5,000, a probate application will cost £273*. There’s no fee if the estate is worth £5,000 or less. *Correct as of August 2022

Extra copies of the probate documents will cost £1.50 each and are worth paying for as you can send additional copies to any organisations that need one, speeding up the process overall.

Applying for probate with MJR Solicitors 

Many of these points show that applying for probate can seem largely straightforward. But it’s frequently a long, confusing, and complicated process, filled with legal jargon, pitfalls, and delays. So we’re here to help you – 24/7 if you need us.

With a range of transparent fees, our experienced probate and estate administration team at MJR Solicitors can take care of as much or as little – or the whole – probate process for you from start to finish for complete peace of mind in a difficult time. 
So contact us and leave a message, call us on 01243 945 054, or email us at info@mjrsolicitors.co.uk today.

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Mark Riley

Mark Riley is a specialist lawyer offering services in Criminal Law and Professional Misconduct Cases. Mark has studied around the world, including time in Australia. Whilst there he met many amazing and inspirational lawyers. Mark is a passionate advocate and can be found in Courts up and down the Country having practised in Magistrates' Courts, Crown Courts and various Tribunals.
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