The processes behind Wills, probate and inheritance

wave home-tree

When a family member dies, you may need to get the legal right to deal with their property, money and possessions – known as their estate. To do this in England and Wales you may be able to apply for a Grant of Probate (if there’s a will) or Letters of Administration (if there’s no will) – known as applying for ‘probate’. Both the grant of probate and letters of administration are often referred to under the umbrella term ‘grant of representation’.

In most circumstances, applying for ‘probate’ follows a common series of steps:

Check if there’s a Will – this normally states who sorts out the estate. If there’s no Will, you can apply to be the ‘administrator’ – the person who deals with the estate if there’s no Will in place.

  • You can usually apply for a grant of representation to be the administrator of the estate if you’re the person’s next of kin, eg their spouse (or civil partner) or child.
  • You can apply if you’d separated from the person but you were still married or in a civil partnership when they died.
  • You can’t apply for a grant of representation if you’re the partner of the person but weren’t their husband, wife or civil partner when they died. You’re also not automatically entitled to any of your partner’s estate.

The law decides who inherits the estate if there is no Will.

Firstly, if this is the case, apply to get a Grant of Representation which gives you the legal right to access things like the person’s bank account. A grant of representation can sometimes be known as a ‘grant of probate’, ‘letters of administration’ or ‘letters of administration with a will.’ You can apply for a grant of representation yourself or use a solicitor or another person licensed to provide probate services. There are 4 steps to follow.

  1. Complete a probate application form.
  2. Complete an Inheritance Tax form.
  3. Send your application.
  4. Swear an oath.

You will then need to:

  1. Pay any Inheritance Tax that’s due.
  2. Collect the estate’s assets, e.g. money from the sale of the person’s property.
  3. Pay any debts, e.g. unpaid utilities bills.
  4. Distribute the estate – this means giving any property, money or possessions to the people entitled to it – the ‘beneficiaries.’

You don’t normally need a grant of representation if the estate either:

  • Passes to the surviving spouse or civil partner because it was held in joint names, eg. a savings account.
  • Doesn’t include land, property or shares.

You should contact any organisation holding the money and assets of the estate, eg. the bank or building society. They may ask for proof of death, such as the death certificate, after the death has been registered. Each financial institution has its own rules but it is likely that you will need to apply for a grant of representation.