If a person left a will when they died, it’s necessary for someone to deal with the deceased’s money, property and possessions according to their wishes. The government expects that person to apply for permission to do so.
In British law we refer to this as an Application for Probate. This term leaves many reaching for Google.
The word ‘probate’ came down to us from the Latin word ‘probatum’ meaning something ‘tried, tested and proved’. If the Probate Court approves of the applicant for probate, then they receive a Grant of Probate.
A Grant of Probate basically says ‘go on, get to it’ in plain English. However there is an implicit understanding the person receiving the permission must be able to justify their decisions, if called on to do so.
This article describes how the process works in England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland manage deceased estates in different ways.
Situations When an Application for Probate is Unnecessary
If the deceased did not leave a will, then someone must apply to be the Administrator of their estate. If not, then their assets will remain ‘in limbo’ until the government appoints someone to sort it out.
It may not be necessary to apply for probate or to be an administrator at all, if the deceased’s assets were held jointly, or their premium bonds were worth less than £5,000.
How to Go About Administering an Estate with a Will
It goes without saying a non-legal person may find some of what follows challenging. The law expects them to do their utmost best not to leave stones unturned. It could be prudent to obtain specialist advice where you are uncertain about something.
# Locate the will and satisfy yourself it is the original, final, witnessed statement of their intentions
# Place a death notice in The Gazette. This official record is sufficient proof you have tried your best to locate creditors before distributing the estate to beneficiaries. If you don’t, you could be liable for any debts that surface later.
# Value the estate and report this to HMRC. They will decide whether there is any estate duty due. Valuing assets can be complex and it’s important to get this right. You may benefit from advice if unsure.
# Apply for, and obtain a Grant of Probate to proceed. The somewhat long form is simple in principle; however the quality of the information you provide is essential if you are to make a good job of this.
# Receive the Grant of Probate. Gather the assets together and secure them. Make a list of them all. Provisionally allocate any specifically left to a person in the will. Allow the beneficiaries to lay claims for the rest, at the values you determined.
# Pay any inheritance tax due to HM Revenue and Customs. Settle any debts, pay utilities etc. Also remember to obtain acknowledgements that these accounts are paid in full. Keep a record of all your decisions and actions as you go along,
# Finally, distribute the assets and cash in accordance with the deceased’s intentions. Make very sure you get this right. It can be difficult, and costly to correct mistakes.
That, in a Nutshell is How Wills, Probate and Inheritance Work
We hope you found this information useful if you are an executor or are waiting to receive an inheritance. We should like to add the disclaimer that the information in this article does not constitute binding or legal advice.