Do I Need Probate to Access Bank Accounts?

14 July 2017

When a loved one dies in England or Wales, you might need to go through the probate process in order to access their bank accounts.

What is Probate?

Probate is when you make an application to the Probate Registry to get the legal authority to deal with a deceased person’s assets. If the deceased person left a will, the executors will need to apply for a grant of probate. If there is no valid will, one of the deceased’s relatives will need to apply for a grant of letters of administration. You can either apply for probate yourself, or you can instruct a probate solicitor to apply on your behalf.

If you deal with probate yourself you can be held financially liable for any loss resulting from any mistakes made during the estate administration process.

With our Probate Complete Service we take full responsibility for obtaining Grant of Probate and dealing with the Legal, Tax (excl VAT), Property and Estate Administration affairs.

Why Do I Need Probate?

Unless you get a grant from the Probate Registry, you won’t be able to deal with a deceased person’s assets, such as their bank accounts. This is because financial organisations such as banks and building societies must be sure that they are releasing a deceased person’s money to the right person. A grant of probate or grant of letters of administration acts as proof that you have the legal authority to access the accounts.

Is Probate Always Needed?

You don’t always need probate to access a deceased person’s bank accounts. Usually this is for one of two reasons.

Firstly, if the bank account is held in joint names and the other person is still alive, he/she can continue to use the bank account. For example, if a husband and wife have a joint account and the husband dies, the wife can still access the account. But she’d need to present her husband’s death certificate to the bank in order to transfer the account into her sole name.

Secondly, if the bank account or the entire Estate is worth very little – known as a small estate. You’ll only need to get a grant if the deceased person’s assets are worth a certain amount. It’s not possible to say what the threshold is because different banks and financial institutions have their own limits. This means you’ll need to check with all the organisations your loved one banked with.

The threshold used to be quite low, with most banks and financial institutions asking for a grant of probate if the Estate was worth £5,000 or more. But in 2015 most banks raised their threshold, making it easier for bereaved relatives to access their loved one’s bank accounts. Now the threshold is generally somewhere between £5,000 and £50,000, although it still differs from case to case.

If a grant isn’t needed, you’ll probably still need to show the bank the death certificate and some ID. This is to prove that you’ve got the authority to close the account.

If you’re not sure whether you need Probate to access your late loved one’s bank accounts, our probate advisors can help you.

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