How to navigate the probate process

Death can create a great deal of paperwork. Here’s what to do if you need to apply for probate.

When someone dies their estate has to go through a financial process known as probate. It entails “identifying the dead person’s assets, paying off any debts and sharing out the remaining estate according to the will”, says Patrick Collinson in The Guardian. Probate usually takes three to four months, but lockdown has delayed the process. If you are facing probate here’s what you need to do. The first step is to register the death. In normal circumstances you do this in person at the local register office. During lockdown remote registrations have been taking place. 

The doctor will send an email of the medical certificate of death to the registrar, copying in family members. The registrar will then ask for additional information before they email a scanned copy of the death certificate. Once you have the death certificate you need to report the death. Use the Death Notification Service and the government’s Tell Us Once site and you should be able to inform all banks, building societies and government departments quite simply through both services.

Now you need the deceased’s will. If you can’t find it in their home, contact their solicitor, accountant or bank to see if any of them have it. If there is a will the executors should start gathering the deceased’s financial information. If someone has died intestate – without a will – then the people who will inherit (which depends on the circumstances) need to value the estate. You need to “assess the amount in savings accounts, pensions, shares and Isas, and whether the dead person’s employer owed them wages”, says Collinson. Any debts, including mortgages and credit cards, must be paid off from the estate . You should also check if there are any payouts due from life insurance policies. This is also when, depending on the estate’s value, you need to apply for a grant of probate: it proves you have “the right to access funds, sort finances and share out assets”, says Amy Roberts on MoneySavingExpert.com.

In England and Wales – Scotland and Northern Ireland have different rules – if an estate is worth less than £5,000 you don’t usually need to apply, but it is free to do so. There is a £155 application fee for estates worth more than £5,000, plus £60 if you don’t use a solicitor.

You can apply for a grant of probate online. You need form PA1P. When you submit this form you’ll also need to “submit a form to HMRC to see if the estate is liable for inheritance tax”, says Roberts. You’ll need form IHT205 or IHT400, depending on the value of the estate. You can find all three forms here at Gov.uk or you can call 0300 123 1072 to request them.

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