What happens if you don’t apply for probate?

11 March 2020

If Probate is needed but you don't apply for it, the beneficiaries won't be able to receive their inheritance. Instead the deceased person's assets will be frozen and held in a state of limbo. No one will have the legal authority to access, sell or transfer them.

Do I need probate?

When someone dies, you’ll need to find out if Probate is needed to deal with their Estate. Probate isn't required when someone dies. It depends on the value of the deceased person's assets and how they owned them.

In England and Wales, Probate isn't usually needed for small Estates that don't contain a property or a large amount of money. If the Estate contains any property or land then this wouldn't be considered a small Estate and Probate will be needed.

An Estate will be considered small if the total value is less than £5,000, but the threshold can be higher than this depending on who the deceased banked with. Each bank and financial institution has their own limit, so you'll need to check this. If any assets owned in the deceased's sole name are worth more than the bank's Probate threshold, Probate will be needed to release them.

For more information on each bank's threshold, see Bank Limits for Probate.

If someone dies who owned a property as joint tenants with someone else, then the surviving owner would automatically inherit the property under the Right of Survivorship. Probate is not needed for this.

If they owned a property with someone else as tenants in common though, the property would not automatically be transferred to the surviving owner. Instead, the deceased person's share of the property would form part of their Estate and be inherited by whoever is legally entitled to inherit this. Probate will be needed to deal with this.

Other jointly held assets (such as the contents of joint bank accounts) generally transfer to the surviving owner. You'd need to be certain that all of the deceased's assets were held in joint names to work out whether Probate is needed.

What happens if I don’t apply for probate?

If you don't apply for Probate, then the deceased's assets can't be accessed or transferred to any of the Beneficiaries.

Probate gives a named person the legal authority to deal with a deceased person's assets. Unless someone is granted this authority, they can't wind up the deceased person's affairs. This includes closing down bank accounts, selling or transferring property, transferring pensions and cashing in other investments. So what will happen to these assets? Well, they will still exist, but they will be frozen. No one will be able to do anything with them, so they will remain in limbo. Ultimately the beneficiaries won’t be able to receive their inheritance. Not obtaining Probate when it’s needed can also cause problems for family and friends in the future.

For example, someone who has lost their spouse may believe Probate isn’t needed because everything was owned in joint names, but it later turns out that the house was actually owned in their spouse's sole name. Consequently, when that person dies, the people responsible for administering their Estate will also have to deal with the Probate on their late spouse's Estate. This would need to be done first, possibly resulting in significant delays and increasing both the stress and the costs involved.

So it’s best to find out for certain if Probate is needed after someone has died. You can find out by speaking to our Probate Advisory team. If Probate is required, it’s a good idea to begin the process as soon as you can, as there are some strict deadlines to meet. For more information, see Is there a Deadline to Complete Probate?

If you don’t feel able to do this yourself, you can always ask a specialist Probate Solicitor to act on your behalf.

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

At Co-op Legal Services our Probate Solicitors offer fixed fee Probate. Once we have provided you with a written quote for the agreed work to be done, that price will not change, unless the original information we are given is shown to be incorrect or circumstances change.

* We can also pay all the costs of a Co-op Funeralcare funeral, providing the Estate owns sufficient assets which can be sold in due course to repay our costs.

As part of the Co-op Group our values of openness, honesty, social responsibility and caring for others are core to the service we provide.

If someone has died and you need help with probate, contact us:

More articles