Probate and Estate Administration

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What is the difference between probate and estate administration?

If you’re dealing with the estate of someone who has passed away, you’ll likely be familiar with the terms ‘probate’ and ‘estate administration’. But what do each of these processes involve, and is there a difference between them?

In short, probate will give someone the legal right to deal with the affairs of a person who has passed away. It will usually be the executor named in the Will who applies for probate, as this will be the individual responsible for distributing the estate.

When a probate application has been approved, the executor will be able to start the process of estate administration. This will involve settling any outstanding debts or loans, as well as sharing out assets amongst beneficiaries listed in the Will.

Essentially, probate is just one part of dealing with a loved one’s estate, whereas estate administration refers to the entire process of handling a deceased person’s assets, debts and taxes.

I’m the executor of a Will – where should I start?

As an executor, your first priority should be to find the Will of the person who has passed away. If you’re not sure where this is, try contacting the deceased person’s solicitor or bank – it may be that the Will is locked away for safekeeping.

After locating the Will, you’ll need to have the estate valued – this will include everything the individual owned at the time of their death, minus any outstanding debts or loans.

How much an estate is worth will ultimately determine whether probate is necessary. So it’s important that a full valuation is carried out before applying for a grant of probate.

We understand that the thought of valuing an entire estate may seem daunting, and it can be difficult to know where to begin. For most people, property will be the largest asset they acquire over their lifetime, so this can be a good place to start.

For lower-value properties where inheritance tax is unlikely to apply, an estate agent’s valuation should be enough to apply for probate. But where properties are more expensive, a formal valuation from a surveyor may be required.

You’ll then need to consider the contents of the property. We would suggest making a list of any jewellery, furniture or equipment that could be of value. For antique or bespoke items, it may be better to use the services of a professional appraiser.

The next step after this will be to apply for probate, so that you can deal with the assets you’ve identified. Our Wills, estates and probate solicitors can help you to navigate this process, taking some of the pressure off your shoulders.

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How do I apply for probate?

If you find that probate is needed after the estate has been valued, you’ll need to apply either by post or online via GOV.UK. After this, if the Probate Service approves your application, you will receive one of the following documents by post:

  • A grant of probate – if the deceased person left a Will
  • Letters of administration with Will annexed – if the Will doesn’t name an executor or the named executor cannot apply
  • Letters of administration – if there was no Will made

As soon as you’ve received your grant of probate or letters of administration, you’ll have the authority to deal with the deceased person’s estate.

Try to send copies of your probate document to any banks, estate agents, insurance or utility companies the deceased person dealt with. This will allow you to act on their behalf to close the accounts and withdraw any funds.

What happens if there is no Will?

If someone you care about dies without leaving a Will, you will need to apply to administer their estate in line with the rules of intestacy. This essentially means that the state will decide how your loved one’s estate is distributed.

The rules of intestacy tend to prioritise married or civil partners, and they do not currently recognise cohabiting couples. But it is possible to make a claim against a loved one’s estate if you feel that you should have benefited from it.

It’s important to note that the rules of intestacy will also apply if a Will has been left but it is not legally valid. In these cases, the rules of intestacy will overrule any terms set out within the Will.

What will be involved in the estate administration process?

After you’ve been granted probate (or letters of administration), the next step will be administering the estate.

This will primarily involve paying off any outstanding debts, loans or taxes before distributing the estate amongst beneficiaries named in the Will. But you may also need to:

  • Arrange postal redirection (usually to your own address)
  • Cancel contracts with utility companies
  • Clear out the person’s home – remember to have anything you think could be valuable appraised by a professional
  • Deal with any shares or investments
  • Sell large assets such as property

Undertaking the administration of an estate is no mean feat. But with the right support, it doesn’t need to be a difficult process. This is where a solicitor could help you.

Do you need a solicitor for probate and estate administration?

In most cases, it would be wise to get professional probate and estate planning advice – especially if inheritance tax is payable, or if you think the Will might be contested.

While it is possible to do all this yourself, the process can become complicated and time-consuming. Our expert solicitors can provide guidance – whether you need help locating a Will, applying for probate, or administrating an estate.


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