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What Is Probate & How Does It Work?

Managing a loved one’s affairs when they die is never easy. Probate is one of the many things that you’ll have to deal with.

This guide is here to help you through this difficult process. We’ll explain what probate is, how it works, how long it takes and what you need to do.

What Do You Need To Do When Someone Dies?

There are a number of things you need to sort out before starting probate, such as registering the death and arranging a funeral.

You’ll also need to find and collect the deceased’s personal and financial documents including their Will. If the Will names you as its executor, you’ll also have to apply for a Grant of Probate.

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What Is Probate?

Probate is the entire process of administering a dead person’s estate. This involves organising their money, assets and possessions and distributing them as inheritance – after paying any taxes and debts.

If the deceased has left a Will, it will name someone that they’ve chosen to administer their estate. This person is known as the executor of the Will.

What Is A Grant of Probate?

Before they start, the executor must apply for a Grant of Probate, a legal document that gives them the authority to deal with the deceased’s property.

Probate ends once all taxes and debts have been paid and all inheritance passed on.

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Who Can Apply For Probate?

Only the executor named in the deceased’s Will can apply for probate to administer their estate.

If you have been named executor but don’t want to administer the estate yourself, we can apply for probate on your behalf.

If there’s no will, the intestacy rules say who can apply to administer the estate instead. See Can You Get Probate If There Is No Will? for more information.

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How Does The Probate Process Work?

Every estate and every Will is different. The exact probate process can vary depending on the instructions left in the Will and the assets, creditors, and beneficiaries the estate has.

The basic process for an executor is:

  1. Gather the full details of the estate’s assets and debts
  2. Apply for Grant of Probate (permission to administer the estate and pass out inheritance)
  3. Complete an inheritance tax return and pay any tax due
  4. You receive a Grant of Probate
  5. Repay any of the deceased’s outstanding debts
  6. Distribute the rest of the estate according to the instructions left in the Will.

Probate can also be complicated if there are any disputes between the executor, beneficiaries, creditors, or HMRC.

Our solicitors can advise on or help with any stage of the probate process. We can help if disputes are stopping you from making progress or can even take over your duties as executor entirely.

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Can You Get Probate If There Is No Will?

You can’t get a Grant of Probate if there isn’t a Will, but you can still administer the estate and distribute inheritance through a slightly different process.

The rules of intestacy set out who can apply to administer the estate with a Grant of Administration. Without a Will deciding how to pass on the assets, the administrator distributes inheritance according to the rules of intestacy. Only spouses, civil partners, children, and other close relatives can inherit under these rules.

Read more about the intestacy rules and estate administration without a will.

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Can A Will Be Changed After Death?

You can change a valid Will, but you can only make changes to the share of the inheritance that it has given you. For example, you could:

  • Give specific assets to different people instead
  • Give away your whole entitlement
  • Reduce inheritance tax
  • Use your inheritance to set up a trust for your family.

You will need to apply for a document called a deed of variation, or a deed of family arrangement, to do this.

Read more about changing a Will after death.

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Can I Challenge Someone's Will?

You may be able to challenge or contest a Will if you think it doesn’t accurately represent the deceased’s intentions for their estate, or because you think it is invalid for other reasons.

You can contest a will if:

  • The Will has been forged
  • The deceased had reduced mental capacity when writing their Will
  • The deceased was under undue influence when writing their Will
  • You were financially dependent on the deceased and the Will doesn’t provide for you (as required by the Inheritance Act).

Read more about contesting an invalid Will.

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How Much Does Probate Cost?

We offer a highly personalised service for each of our customers. The cost will depend on the amount of work you’d like us to do.

When you speak to one of our team, we’ll judge how much work is involved based on your requirements and the size of the estate. We’ll give you an estimate for our fees before starting any work and – wherever possible – quote a fixed-fee cost for your peace of mind.

Read more information about our fees

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How Long Does Probate take?

This will take about a year for most estates. The exact amount of time will depend on the size and complexity of the estate.

International probate can be more complicated and usually takes between six months and two years.

Sometimes disputes can come up during probate between the executor, beneficiaries, creditors, or tax authorities. These disputes can delay you in administering the estate.

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What Rights Does A Beneficiary Have?

A beneficiary is someone who is due to receive an inheritance from an estate.

If the deceased has left a valid Will, the beneficiaries of their estate will be named in the Will. If there is no valid Will, the beneficiaries will be chosen according to the intestacy rules. (See Can You Get Probate If There Is No Will?)

Beneficiaries have a right to information during the probate process.

It is the executor’s responsibility to keep beneficiaries up-to-date with how the estate administration is progressing. They must keep accounts for the estate and show them to beneficiaries when asked.

Beneficiaries can take legal action against an executor if they breach these rights or if the executor is otherwise mismanaging the estate.

Read more about beneficiaries’ rights.

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Contact Us

To learn more about how our specialist probate solicitors can help you with estate administration and other related issues, call us on 0370 1500 100 or contact us online and we’ll ring you back.

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