Do I need probate?

Find out quickly and easily if you need probate by completing our short questionnaire.

The easiest way to find out if you need probate is to complete our interactive 'do I need probate?' questionnaire.

How can I find out if probate is needed?

Whether or not probate is needed depends on what assets the deceased person owned, and whether they owned them in their sole name.

When is probate needed in England or Wales?

To work out if you need probate, you’ll need to find out how much the deceased person's assets are worth. You’ll also need to find out how these assets were held – in the deceased person’s sole name, or in joint names with someone else who is still alive.

Brian and Sky share their experience using Co-op Legal Services for probate estate administration

We were contacted by Sky whose father, Mervyn, had recently died. He had left a complex will so Sky knew she would be unable to administer the estate herself.

Watch the video or read how we helped Brian and Sky.

What assets did the deceased own?

If the deceased person owned very little, it’s unlikely that probate will be needed. This is known as having a small estate. However, it’s difficult to say exactly what constitutes a small estate, as there is no set limit.

Every bank and financial institution has their own limit and their own approach to probate. Some have a threshold for probate of £5,000, while others have raised it to £50,000.

To make matters more complicated, some banks and financial institutions will say that if the overall value of the deceased person’s estate is (for example) £15,000, probate is required. Others will say that probate is only needed if there is £15,000 in the individual account.

So you’ll need to confirm with the organisations holding the deceased person’s assets as to what their threshold for probate is. This will determine whether or not probate is needed.

For more information, see bank limits for probate.

Were assets held in joint names?

Assets held in joint names can be held as joint tenants or tenants in common.

If assets are held in joint names as joint tenants with someone else, it’s likely that probate won’t be necessary, regardless of the value.

That’s because if assets are held as joint tenants with someone else who is still alive, they will automatically pass to the surviving owner. So, for example, if your husband has died and you owned a property together as joint tenants, the property will transfer into your name. You don’t need probate for this to happen.

However, if you owned a property with your husband as tenants in common, his share of the property will not automatically transfer into your name on his death. Instead, it will pass to whoever is legally entitled to inherit under his will, or by the rules of intestacy.

If someone dies who owned a property in their sole name, you’ll need to go through the probate process to sell the property or transfer it into someone else’s name.

Is probate needed to deal with a will trust?

Whether any of the estate assets form part of a will trust has no bearing on the need for probate. If a will includes a will trust which needs to be dealt with as part of the probate process, probate may take longer. The need for probate depends on the assets in the estate though, not whether there is a trust.

Confused about probate?

The question of whether or not probate is needed can be a confusing one.

Sometimes it will be easy to determine – for instance, if the deceased person had a small amount of money in the bank and owned nothing else, probate is unlikely to be needed. But if the deceased owned a property in their sole name, or had multiple high value assets, probate will be required.

For many people who are dealing with the death of a loved one, further advice, guidance and support is needed, and our probate specialists can help you to find out for certain whether or not probate is needed in your circumstances.

If you find out from our probate questionnaire that you do need probate, contact us for a fixed price quote.

Can I apply for probate myself?

If probate is needed, it's possible to deal with probate yourself, providing you're familiar with the legal process and confident completing all the required tasks. DIY probate is time consuming and the work involved can be complex.

Dealing with probate yourself also carries a level of risk, because you can be held personally financially liable if you make any mistakes.

For these reasons, many people choose to instruct a probate solicitor to carry out this work for them.

Before you decide if you want to deal with probate yourself, you should think carefully about whether you have the time, energy and skill set to carry out this work.

What happens if I don’t apply for probate?

If you don't apply for probate when it's needed, 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 the assets. Without this authority, they can't do anything with the assets. This includes closing down bank accounts, selling or transferring property, transferring pensions and cashing in other investments. Essentially the assets will remain in limbo and 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. When that person dies, the people administering their estate will have to deal with the probate on their late spouse's estate first. This could cause significant delays and increase the cost.

Co-op Legal Services is the largest provider of Probate and Estate administration services in England and Wales, and is trusted to deal with over £1.3 billion in Estates annually.