Probate FAQs

Carrying out probate yourself rather than using a solicitor will save you significant amounts of money, but it can be complicated. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about probate.

Probate is the process of dealing with someone’s estate after they have died. It involves collecting in all of the person’s assets, settling any debts and using what’s leftover to pay the beneficiaries as directed by the will. If there isn’t a will, the rules of intestacy will determine who receives the person’s assets.

Probate is the role of the executor(s) (there may be one, or more than one) named in the will. If a will wasn’t left, the job of dealing with a person’s estate falls to their next of kin, who becomes known as the administrator. In this case, the process is known as ‘administration’.

You will need a grant of probate if:

  • the deceased person’s estate contains land, buildings or a house that is not co-owned with a surviving spouse or civil partner who will automatically own it on the deceased’s death
  • the estate includes accounts containing more than £5,000 at banks or other institutions that require a grant to be obtained.

If there is a will, the instructions within it are still valid even if there is no executor to administer the estate. In this case, one of the beneficiaries can apply to the court to be an administrator of the estate. This application is known as ‘letters of administration’.

Executors and administrators have exactly the same powers. However, an executor is appointed by the will and an administrator is appointed by the court. While an administrator’s powers don’t come into effect until they have obtained formal permission in the form of ‘letters of administration’, an executor’s powers start from the date the person died.

It typically takes between six and eight weeks to get a grant of probate (or letters of administration if there isn’t a will). Once this has been obtained, the whole process of administering the estate usually takes from six to nine months, depending on the complexity of the estate and the cooperation of the various parties involved.

Executors and administrators are personally liable to the beneficiaries for any mistakes they make in the administration of the estate, for example not paying all the liabilities before distributing the estate, paying assets to the wrong people, or not settling creditors’ demands in the correct order. Other problems could include going ahead assuming there is no valid will when there is one, or using a will which is proved to be invalid.

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