Is Probate Required if There is No Property?
09 January 2019
Probate is always needed to deal with a property after the owner dies. However, other organisations such as the deceased's bank, insurer, or pension provider may also request to see a Grant of Probate before releasing any money held in the deceased's name. This means that Probate is often still required even when there is no property.
What is Probate?
A Grant of Representation, often referred to as Probate, is a court issued document which provides evidence of authority for the named person (the Executor(s)) to deal with a deceased person's affairs. Essentially, if you obtain Probate in your name then you will use this document to show third parties that you have the legal authority and responsibility to act on the deceased person's behalf.
It is well know that Probate is needed if a deceased person owned property. This is because the property cannot be sold or transferred without Probate. However, other third parties, such as banks, insurers and pension providers, who an Executor will likely deal with when they administer an Estate, may also request to see Probate. This is to make sure that they are dealing with the correct person and therefore releasing money to the correct person(s).
Therefore, even if a deceased did not own property when they passed away, there is a possibility that Probate will still be needed. Some common situations where Probate is needed are discussed in more detail below.
Bank Accounts and Other Cash Assets (Insurances/Pensions)
Nowadays it is safe to assume that people will deal with their money through a bank account, and Executors will have the responsibility of closing these accounts. The requirements of each bank to close accounts varies significantly and each bank uses their own discretion as to the value of accounts that they will close and release funds on with or without Probate.
Some institutions have a high threshold of about £50,000 before they require Probate to release funds, most are around the £25,000 mark but some are as low as £5,000. For more information, see Bank Limits for Probate.
Executors should therefore not be surprised if they are asked for Probate to close down bank accounts, even on sums of money which appear to be quite low.
If a deceased person leaves shareholdings which need to be sold and/or transferred to new owners then it is likely that Probate will be needed. The share registrar will ask to see the Grant of Probate before allowing the Executor to deal with the shares. This is the case even for very small shareholdings.
Occasionally it may be possible to avoid Probate if the Executor can show the registrar that Probate is not needed to deal with the rest of the Estate. This may be the case if the overall value of all assets in the Estate are below £30,000, for example, but this will of course depend on the bank thresholds mentioned above.
Interest in another Estate
It may be the case that the deceased passed away before they received their inheritance from an Estate to which they were a Beneficiary. In this instance, the Executor of the deceased Beneficiary's Estate needs to ensure that they collect the inheritance due to the deceased, as this will form part of their Estate and will pass to their own Beneficiaries.
In such situations, Executors dealing in the first Estate have the right to request sight of Probate on the second Estate before they will release funds to the deceased Beneficiary's Executors.
If someone dies without living a Will, then they are referred to as dying 'intestate.' This means that rather than their Estate being distributed as per the terms of a Will, the Estate will be divided and dealt with by following a set of statutory inheritance laws. These laws, called the Rules of Intestacy, not only cover who inherits from the Estate but also defines who has responsibility to deal with the Estate. This person is called the Executor when there is a Will, and an Administrator when there is not.
Often, there is more than one person who can step up and act in an intestate situation. Therefore, the person who would like to act and hold this authority and responsibility should be the person to apply for Probate. This will enable them to deal with the Estate securely, having obtained the Court's authority, and without interference or confusion further down the line.
In conclusion, there are many reasons why Probate could be needed when administering an Estate without a property. An Executor should always consider possible future needs to provide Probate even if, at the outset of administering an Estate, there appears to be no reason to obtain this Court-issued authority.