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Applying for Probate

Grant of Representation

The process of dealing with the affairs of a deceased person may require the need to apply for a grant of probate (if there is a will) or letters of administration (if the person died without making a will). Each of these Grants is a form of Grant of Representation. They authorise you to take all the estate's assets into your possession and sell or transfer them.

The need for a Grant (either probate or letters of administration) will depend upon the size and complexity of the estate and the terms of the will, if there is one. If probate or letters of administration are required you will not be able to move the assets of the deceased person or transfer them to the beneficiaries until probate or letters of administration have been obtained.

A grant of probate or letters of administration will normally be required if the deceased held shares, certain insurance policies or held property as a tenant in common, rather than the more normal joint tenancy arrangements. However, if the total value of the deceased's estate is less than £5,000 or the assets are all held jointly and are passing to the surviving joint owner, then a grant of probate or letters of administration may not be required. It will be necessary for the executor of the will or the administrator to write to the financial institutions to establish whether a grant of probate or letters of administration are necessary.

Applying for probate or letters of administration

Having established the assets and liabilities of the deceased and notified the relevant parties and institutions you will be a substantial way towards obtaining probate or letters of administration if either are necessary. You can apply for probate yourself or with the help of a solicitor.

Making the application yourself

If you decide to make the application for probate or letters of administration yourself the forms that you need will depend upon whether the value of the estate after exemptions exceeds the nil rate band of £325,000. It would also be helpful (but not totally necessary) if you obtain an IHT reference number to put onto the forms. The number can be applied for online here. If the deceased person lived in England or Wales the following forms are relevant:

Inheritance tax unlikely to be due:

Download Probate application form PA1

Download Inheritance Tax form IHT205

Other IHT forms which may be required

Inheritance tax likely to be due:

Download Probate application form PA1

Download Inheritance Tax form IHT400

Download Form IHT421 'Probate summary'

Other IHT forms which may be required

Be careful when completing the PA and IHT forms using a computer (rather than hardcopy) since if you save them the information is not there when they are re-opened. With this in mind, it is worth keeping tabs open or using a hardcopy of the form. If you think that Inheritance Tax is not due and you have completed form IHT205 you will have to attend an interview:

Refer to form PA4 and decide which venue you would like to be interviewed at.

Send all your forms, and the additional documents and probate fee requested on the PA1 checklist, to the appropriate controlling Probate Registry office for that venue. An appointment will be made for you within 10 days of sending in your application.

After the interview the grant of probate will be made shortly afterwards by post . If you think that Inheritance Tax will be due and you have completed form IHT 400 you will have to attend an interview: Refer to form PA4 and decide which venue you would like to be interviewed at. Send the form PA1 'Application for probate', and the additional documents and fee requested on the PA1 checklist, to the appropriate controlling Probate Registry office for that venue.

If there is Inheritance Tax to pay the simplest way to do this is to complete form IHT 423 (available here) and send it to the bank where the deceased held their bank account. You may have to send this to the bank's bereavement team, rather than the local branch, but the bank should be able to tell you this.

An appointment at the Probate Office will be made for you within 10 days of sending in your application. Send form IHT421 and form IHT400 to HM Revenue & Customs. If you have worked out the Inheritance Tax that is due yourself you will need a reference and a payslip in order to make the payment. The notes to form IHT400 explain how to do this. Alternatively HMRC will calculate the tax for you and they will tell you what is due. When any tax due has been paid, or if there is no tax to pay, HMRC will stamp and return form IHT421 to the Probate Registry office confirming this.

The Probate Registry office will issue the grant of probate or letters of administration. The grant is free if the net value of the estate is under £5,000 and costs £215 if it is over this amount. However, see below for the changes due to be introduced in May 2017. It is best to order additional copies while at the Registry Office because they only cost 50p each. You can get copies later by visiting a Commissioner for Oaths but the cost will be higher - at least £10 for the first copy and 50p for additional ones. Further details of the fees can be found on form PA3 here Probate or letters of administration will not be granted until the Inheritance Tax liability has been paid.

Proposed changes in probate fees - *subsequently shelved after announcement of the General Election

From May 2017 the cost of obtaining probate was due to change from the current flat fee of £215 (£155 if done by a solicitor) to a fee based on the value of the estate as follows:

  • Value of estate up to £50,000 or exempt from requiring a grant of probate - cost £Nil
  • Value of estate exceeds £50,000 but does not exceed £300,000 - cost £300
  • Value of estate exceeds £300,000 but does not exceed £500,000 - cost £1,000
  • Value of estate exceeds £500,000 but does not exceed £1m - cost £4,000
  • Value of estate exceeds £1m but does not exceed £1.6m - cost £8,000
  • Value of estate exceeds £1.6m but does not exceed £2m - cost £12,000
  • Value of estate exceeds £2m - cost £20,000

In some cases the executor will not be able or prepared to pay the fee from their own resources. The British Banking Association have been in discussions with the Ministry of Justice regarding the potential for their members to allow the payment of probate fees from a bank account of the deceased, as they currently do with funeral and wake costs. Should this not be possible executors may need to take out a short-term loan. These proposals are currently not now going to be enacted - watch this space for any decisions after the next election.

Using a solicitor to make the application on your behalf

If you decide not to make the application for probate or letters of administration yourself then you can use a local solicitor. There will be a charge for this and this is often linked to the value of the estate, so it is worth getting a fee quote before you proceed. Find a local solicitor. Remember that the more work you have done in advance of handing the application over to a solicitor, the lower the fee should be.

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