Dealing with someone’s affairs when they die
Applying for probate gives you the legal right to deal with someone’s property, money and possessions (their estate) when they die.
In England and Wales, there are two types of grants which give you this legal right:
- grant of probate – if the person left a will
- grant of letters of administration – if the person did not leave a will
Both these documents are often referred to as grants of representation. In both circumstances, the application process is the same.
A solicitor can help you apply for probate by:
- making the process easier
- making sure you do not get penalties if you submit the wrong information
If the person left a will
Most people name an executor when they write a will. An executor deals with the person’s estate when they die.
If you’re the executor, you’ll need to find out whether to apply for a grant of probate.
A grant of probate is an official document issued by the probate registry (part of the HM Courts & Tribunal Service). It gives you the legal right to deal with the estate of the person who died.
If you’re the executor but you do not want to or cannot act, you can:
- appoint someone else to apply for probate by using the attorney forms on GOV.UK
- refuse to act, if you have not already started to deal with the estate – download the form of renunciation on GOV.UK and file it at a probate registry with the will
You can have up to four executors and you must all agree who applies for probate. You can only submit one application.
If the person did not name an executor in their will, the probate court will appoint someone.
If you cannot find the will
You may not be able to find the person's will or the original copy which you need to apply for probate.
If you have their solicitor's details, you can write to their solicitor and ask if they have the will.
If the solicitor or firm who drew up the document are no longer in business, our library can help you trace them.
If they were in business in 1993 or more recently, the Solicitors Regulation Authority can help you trace them.
If they're still in business, you can use Find a Solicitor for their current contact details.
If the person did not leave a will
If the person did not leave a will you can apply to be an administrator of their estate. This gives you the legal right to deal with the person’s estate when they die.
You can usually apply to be an administrator if you:
- are their next of kin (usually a close relative)
- were married to them, or
- were in a civil partnership with them
To apply to be an administrator of an estate you follow the same steps as applying for probate.
If successful, you’ll get a grant of letters of administration.
When to apply for probate
You may not need to apply for probate if the person who died:
- only had savings or premium bonds – some banks and building societies will release money without needing probate or letters of administration
- had jointly owned land, property, shares or money
You may need to apply for probate to administer the estate of the person who died if they left:
- more than £5,000
- stocks and shares
- a house or land, or
- certain insurance policies
However, some financial organisations may require a grant before giving you access to less than £5,000.
Before applying for probate, a solicitor can help you estimate the estate's value and report it to HM Revenue & Customs. Depending on the value, you may have to pay inheritance tax.
Using a solicitor
Applying for probate is time consuming and can be frustrating.
A solicitor can guide you through the stages of applying for probate. For example, they can:
- tell you if you need to apply for probate
- value the estate
- submit inheritance tax forms to HMRC
- apply for a grant of representation for you
- collect the assets of the estate
- make sure the estate is distributed accurately
Find a solicitor
Choose ‘wills, trust and probate’ as your legal issue to find a probate solicitor.
If you need help using our Find a Solicitor website, call us on 020 7320 5650 (Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm).
If the value of the estate is under £5,000, there’s no fee.
If the value of the estate is over £5,000, the application fee to apply for probate is £273.
Charges for using a solicitor can vary depending on what’s involved in administering the estate.
Your solicitor should tell you what the costs are likely to be before carrying out any work.
After you’ve applied
Grant of probate
You’ll usually get a grant of probate within eight weeks, but there are currently delays with the probate service.
Your solicitor must make any claims against the estate within six months from the date probate is granted.
Dealing with the estate can take about a year. The estate cannot be dealt with until all claims against it have been received.
Stop a probate application
You can stop a probate application if there’s a dispute about:
- whether a will exists
- who can apply for probate
To stop a probate application, you need to “enter a caveat”. This prevents anyone else getting a grant of probate until the dispute is resolved.
A solicitor can help prepare a caveat and send it to the probate registry.
The fee to enter a caveat is £20. The caveat will last six months but it can be renewed.