Probate is the legal right to deal with someone’s estate when they die. Their estate covers money, possessions and property and should not be used or property sold until probate has been obtained.

Who can apply for probate?

Only certain people can apply for probate, which is determined by whether or not there is a will. If there is a will, the executors who are named in it can apply for probate. If there isn’t a will, then only the closest living relative can apply.

How long does it take to get probate?

It usually takes up to 16 weeks after you have submitted your application. However, if you need to provide additional information, it can take longer.

Is probate necessarily needed?

If the person who has died owned land or property as a joint tenant with others or owned shares or money with others, then that property and money will automatically pass to the surviving owner(s). Likewise, if the person who has died only had savings, again, you may not need probate.

Check with the financial organisations of the person who has died, such as their mortgage company or bank, to find out if you will need probate to get access to their assets.

What else should I do before applying for probate?

Before applying, you will need to value the deceased’s estate to establish if there is Inheritance Tax (IHT) to pay. Most estates aren’t taxed in this way.

To work out if IHT may be payable, you will need to draw up the assets and debts of the person who has died. The value of the estate will then affect how you report it and how and when you pay any IHT.

This valuation can take several months, depending on how big or complicated it is.

Find out more about valuing an estate for IHT and how to report its value.

How do I apply for probate?

You can apply for probate online or by post. You can apply yourself or pay a solicitor or other probate practitioner to do it for you, although this can be more expensive. If you don’t already have a solicitor, ask around for recommendations and ensure you ask about charges when you contact them.

When you apply, you will need the death certificate and the original will, if there is one.

Your local probate registry can also send you the forms you need with notes and guidance on what you need to do. A useful helpline telephone number is 0300 123 1072. Or go to applying for probate on GOV.UK for further information, including how to do apply online or by post.

What happens after I’ve applied?

Your application will be reviewed by the Probate Service and once it’s been approved, the will you supplied will become a public record and kept by the probate registry. The death certificate will be returned to you.

You will also receive a ‘grant of probate’ (if there was a will) or ‘letters of administration’ (if there was no will) naming you and any other executors, which will enable you to start dealing with the estate. To do this, send copies of the probate document to the organisations holding the assets of the deceased.

Related pages

  • What to do after someone has died: while there is no need to rush to do anything in particular when a loved one has died, there are a few necessities over the following days; read this article to find out what to do.
  • Arranging a funeral: there are many decisions to make when arranging a funeral and this article considers the key questions to ask yourself.
  • Looking after yourself: advice for looking after both yourself and others following the death of a loved one.

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