What is a Grant of Probate?

What is a Grant of Probate?

“What is a Grant of Probate?” is a frequently asked question by those newly tasked with administering the estate of a loved one who has recently passed away.

A Grant of Probate (commonly referred to as probate) is a legal document that is often required in England and Wales by the Executor(s) (if there is a Will) of a deceased person’s estate. In Scotland, the process is known as ‘Confirmation’. A Grant of Probate is often requested by financial institutions to access bank accounts, sell assets, and settle the debts of someone who has died. Once probate is ‘granted’ by the Court, the Executor then has the legal authority to administer the deceased’s estate and complete the above tasks.

Probate is a term that is commonly misunderstood. It is incorrectly used to refer to the wider process of dealing with the affairs of someone who has passed away. In fact, obtaining a Grant of Probate is just one of the many tasks that may be required during the ‘estate administration’ process.

Estate administration involves dealing with a person’s legal and tax affairs after they have died. In addition to obtaining probate, this may include preparing Inheritance Tax forms, completing any legal work, closing accounts, selling property, and much more. However, as every estate is unique, the tasks involved in estate administration may vary according to the specific assets and their value.

A grant isn’t always needed

A grant is not always needed, here are some of those occasions:

  • If assets were held jointly, like a house, they will automatically pass by survivorship to the spouse or civil partner.
  • The estate could be solely made up of cash – this includes banknotes and coins as well as other personal possessions, such as jewellery, furniture, or cars.
  • The estate equates to a small amount of money.
  • The estate is insolvent (meaning that there isn’t enough cash to pay any taxes, expenses, and debts accumulated by the deceased).
  • The estate includes certain pension benefits and life insurance policies.

Is probate required when there is no Will?

Whether there’s a Will or not does not determine whether probate is required. The requirement for a Grant of Probate is determined by the financial situation of the deceased.

When someone dies without a Will, known as dying Intestate, the process of applying for probate is referred to differently. The person responsible for dealing with the legal and tax affairs of the deceased is known as an Administrator, and they will need to apply for Letters of Administration. The role and responsibilities of an Administrator mirror that of an Executor, and a Letters of Administration has the same purpose as a Grant of Probate.

The collective term used for both Executors and Administrators of an estate is Personal Representatives. Additionally, the umbrella term for Grant of Probate and Letters of Administration is Grant of Representation.

That’s all clear then!

How long does a Grant of Probate usually take?

GOV.UK currently states that probate applications are taking up to 8 weeks to process, and that paper applications are taking longer than online applications. However, these wait times currently do not reflect the actual wait times experienced by professionals obtaining a Grant.

Unfortunately, probate can be severely delayed if a Grant application has been stopped by HMCTS. So, what are the most common causes of delayed or rejected applications?

  • Missing documentation including Power of Attorney or Inheritance Tax forms
  • Missing information on Inheritance Tax
  • Applications not including all of the estate’s Executors
  • Unexplained changes to a Will’s physical condition

The Law Society’s March 2022 probate service user group update revealed that in January 2022, digital applications took 15.8 weeks when an application delay occurred, compared to 4.2 weeks without any delays. On the other hand, paper applications took 21.5 weeks when an application delay occurred, compared to 9.8 weeks without any delays. That’s why many families turn to a professional estate administration provider to reduce the risk of a rejected application which can delay the estate administration process significantly.

How much does probate cost? 

Currently, application fees for obtaining a Grant of Probate are £273 for estates over the value of £5,000 or more. This fee applies to all users of the probate service since January 2022. There is currently no fee for estates with a value under £5,000.

There is help available for those on low incomes or certain benefits. However, when applying for probate online, the full probate fee needs to be paid upfront. If an application for help with probate fees is successful, a refund will be provided for the paid fees.

Can a bank release funds without probate?

How much does an estate have to be worth to require probate? Well, this depends on the thresholds set by individual financial institutions. Probate thresholds vary greatly from institution to institution and range from £5,000 to £50,000. Some banks may also consider releasing funds without probate on a case-by-case basis. Therefore, it’s recommended that you check with the relevant institution as early on as possible, as multiple copies of the Grant may be required if the deceased held various accounts with different institutions.

But how long after obtaining a Grant of Probate is money released from a financial institution? Once probate has been obtained and the Grant has been shared with the bank, funds will typically be released within two weeks. Many banks will release a sum of money to help pay essential costs including the funeral bill before a Grant has been extracted.

What happens after probate is granted?

After probate is granted, the Personal Representatives named on the Grant can begin the process of dealing with the estate. As previously mentioned, this may include closing a bank account, cashing in insurance or pension lump sums, and selling or transferring property. Essentially, it allows the Personal Representatives to legally distribute what is named to the beneficiaries in the Will.

Can you sell a house before probate is granted?

Yes and No. However, whether a property can be sold before probate is granted is dependent on how it’s held. A Grant of Probate is needed in cases where the deceased was the sole owner. Ready Steady Sell explains that if a sole owned property needs to be sold, it can be listed on the market and offers can be accepted before a Grant has been obtained. Unfortunately, this can present its own challenges as the sale of property cannot be fully completed until probate has been granted.

If property was held as beneficial joint tenants (for example, the deceased had a jointly owned property with a spouse or civil partner whose name also appears on the Title Deeds) then the property may be sold without obtaining probate. Alternatively, if property was held as tenants in common with another individual with different percentage shares, this will form part of their estate. Therefore, probate will be required as it will need to be passed to those entitled to inherit.

If you have any questions about the estate administration process please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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