What is probate and when is it required?

Probate is the legal and financial process of dealing with the property, money, and possessions of a person who has died.

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

What is probate?

Probate explained by probate solicitors

Probate Definition: In England and Wales probate is the word normally used to describe the legal and financial processes involved in dealing with the property, money and possessions (called the assets) of a person who has died.

Before the next of kin or executor named in the Will can claim, transfer, sell or distribute any of the deceased's assets they might have to apply for a grant of probate.

What is a grant of probate?

A grant of probate is a legal document that's sometimes needed to access bank accounts, sell assets and settle debts after someone has died.

This document is only called a grant of probate if the person left a will. If they didn't leave a will, a grant of letters of administration is used instead. Both documents work in much the same way, giving a named person legal authority to deal with the estate of the person who died.

When probate has been granted through a grant of probate or letters of administration the next of kin or executor can start to deal with the deceased person’s assets. If there was a will, this will set out how the assets should be distributed. If the person died without a will the law determines who should receive everything. See probate without a will for more information.

To apply for a grant of probate, you have to pay an application fee. Find out how much probate costs.

The probate process explained

The Probate process often involves a lot of complicated legal, tax and financial work which can be broken down into five different phases.

  • Probate Phase 1. Identifying all of the deceased’s assets (property, investments and possessions) and all of their liabilities (debts ranging from loans to utility bills), in order to determine the value of their Estate. At the same time, verifying entitlement to the Estate under the terms of the deceased’s Will, or in accordance with Intestacy laws if they died without a Will, and obtaining the necessary identification documents for those beneficiaries.

  • Probate Phase 2. Paying Inheritance Tax to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) where applicable, and submitting the correct Inheritance Tax return (required whether or not there is tax due), and applying to the Probate Registry for the Grant of Representation, being a document confirming the legal authority to administer the Estate.

  • Probate Phase 3. After the Grant of Representation has been issued by the Probate Registry, liquidating (selling) the deceased’s assets, settling their liabilities, paying the final Estate administration expenses and accounting to HMRC for any further Inheritance Tax, any Income Tax or Capital Gains Tax due to or from the Estate.

  • Probate Phase 4. Preparing Estate accounts documenting all payments into and out of the Estate, and showing the balance left for distribution to the beneficiaries. Sending the Estate accounts to the Personal Representatives (such as the Executor in the Will) for approval.

  • Probate Phase 5. Providing there are no challenges to the Estate or other complicating factors preventing distribution at this stage, the final phase will involve transferring any assets that the beneficiaries wish to retain, and distributing the balance of the Estate funds.

When is probate required?

Probate is usually needed in England or Wales when:

  • The person who died owned property (houses, buildings or land)
  • A bank or other financial institution asks for a grant of probate or grant of letters of administration (also called a grant of representation)

Below we outline other common situations and explain whether probate is needed.

Do I need probate if there is a will?

The need for probate doesn't depend on whether there's a will, it depends on the financial situation of the person who died. The process is very similar regardless of whether there's a will or not, but some of the terminology is different.

If there is a will and probate is needed then the executor needs apply for a grant of probate. If there is no will, then the administrator will need to apply for a grant of letters of administration.

Do I need probate for a small estate?

It depends on the size of the Estate and the value of individual assets. If the estate is small, with no property and less than £5,000 in the bank, probate isn't likely to be needed. This is because some assets and small amounts of money can be dealt with without probate.

Banks and other financial institutions set their own limits for probate, so it's worth checking with them whether they need a grant of representation. We have made a list of the most common high street banks and their probate thresholds - see bank limits for probate. If probate isn't needed, the bank might still ask for a Statutory Declaration to be completed before they release the money, as this confirms that they're releasing the money to the right person.

For more information see probate for small estates.

Do I need probate for joint assets?

If the deceased owned joint assets, such as a joint bank account or property as joint tenants, this will pass to the surviving co-owner under the right of survivorship. The co-owner will need to produce the death certificate to formally transfer the asset into their sole name, but usually won’t need probate to do this.

Do I need probate for property owned as tenants in common?

Usually probate will be needed to deal with a property that is owned with someone else as tenants in common.

This is because when property is owned as tenants in common, each co-owner owns a distinct share of the property. This will pass to the beneficiaries named in their will, or according to the rules of intestacy if there isn't a will. Probate will be needed to do this.

Do I need probate if my husband/wife/civil partner dies?

Again, it depends how the assets were owned. Many couples own their home as joint tenants and have joint bank accounts, meaning probate wouldn't be required. But probate could be needed for any large assets owned in the deceased's sole name, or a property owned as tenants in common.

Do I need probate to sell a house?

If a house is held in the deceased person’s sole name then a probate will be needed to sell it. If the house is held as joint tenants and the surviving co-owner wants to sell the house, they can do so with a copy of the deceased’s death certificate.

To sell a house that is owned as tenants in common, probate will be needed.

Do I need probate for Premium Bonds?

Premium Bonds are governed by National Savings and Investments (NS&I). If the Premium Bonds holding is more than £5,000, probate will be required.

After a Premium Bond holder dies, NS&I can keep the holding in the prize draw for up to 12 months. A claim form will need to be completed that asks NS&I to either keep the bonds in the prize draw or encash them.

How we can help you

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

  • We can pay all the costs of a Co-op Funeralcare funeral and reimburse any deposit paid, as soon as you have instructed us to represent you; providing that the Estate owns sufficient assets that can be sold in due course.

  • Co-op Members save £100 or get 5% off Probate and Estate Administration whichever is higher, terms and conditions apply.

  • We can deal with HM Revenue & Customs on your behalf.

  • We can explain the Probate and Estate Administration processes to you and provide free initial advice and guidance, and we provide you with a written fixed fee quote for dealing with Probate on your behalf.

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:

Authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority

Probate Estate Administration in England and Wales is not a reserved legal activity which means that unregulated providers can offer Probate Estate Administration services regardless of whether they are insured, experienced or qualified to provide a full Probate service.

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

Our Probate team includes over 170 staff of specialist Probate Solicitors, Lawyers, Case Handlers, Advisors and our national network of Probate Consultants; all of whom only deal with Probate.

Co-op Legal Services is a trading name for Co-operative Legal Services Limited which is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, giving you peace of mind knowing that your Probate affairs are being dealt with by a regulated organisation and by a brand name you know and can trust.

Co-op Legal Services has over 600 staff working in different businesses with offices in Manchester, Bristol, Stratford-upon-Avon, Sheffield and London.

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.