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The probate process: key steps explained

19 May 2020

When someone dies, you may need to apply for a grant of probate or letters of administration in order to deal with their estate. For ease, references in this article to a ‘grant’ refer to both grants of probate and/ or letters of administration. Whether you need a grant depends on what the assets of the deceased are, how they are owned (i.e. jointly or in sole names) and their values.

If a grant is required, here are the key steps. This is a simplified version – so make sure you take specialised advice.

1. Identify if there is a will

If there is a will – this will tell you who the executors are and therefore who should be dealing with the estate. It will also tell you who is to benefit from the estate.

If there is no will – there is an intestacy. You will need to look at the intestacy rules to work out who should be dealing with the estate (and also who will benefit).

2. Identify the assets and liabilities

If you are dealing with an estate, you will need to locate all of the assets and liabilities/debts of the deceased and obtain date of death valuations (this includes valuations of joint assets).

3. Apply for probate (if required)

This will involve completing an inheritance tax return (short form or long form depending on the complexity of the estate) and making an application to HMRC and the probate registry.

4. Collect the assets and pay creditors

Once you have obtained the grant, you will need to send this to the various asset providers and complete their individual requirements to collect in the assets. From these assets, you will need to ensure that you settle any liabilities.

5. Complete other administrative tasks

For example, finalising the estate accounts showing what has happened to the assets from the date of death to distribution, as well as completing any final income tax returns, etc.

6. Distribute the estate

This may be as simple as transferring cash across to beneficiaries, or it may require transfers of land, etc.

What’s next?

You should be confident at this stage that all of the above steps have been taken, as once you have released the assets and are no longer in control of them, you won’t have any funds to settle any liabilities which come to light after you have distributed the estate. If you have any concerns about liabilities or claims that you may not be aware of, there are insurance policies etc. that you can put in place to protect yourself.

If you would like more information about the probate process, please contact our wills, trusts and probate team.

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Jennifer is a solicitor in the wills, trusts & probate team. She helps individuals and families with the preparation of wills, trusts, inheritance tax planning and lasting powers of attorney. She also deals with the administration of estates.

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Jennifer Cockett LLB (Hons)
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