Do I Need to Apply for Probate?

The legal experts at Higgins Miller specialise in matters of family law, and as well as handling divorce cases and adoption, that means helping people to deal with wills and probate. Handling the complex administrative tasks which arise when some close to you dies can be highly stressful, especially when you are already trying to cope with the grief involved in the situation, and working alongside experts such as those at Higgins Miller can remove a lot of the stress from the situation when you have to apply for probate

In simple terms, ‘probate’ is a word for the legal right to deal with the estate of an individual after they die, their estate being their money, property and possessions. It refers to being given permission to carry out the instructions left in a person’s will or, if there is no will, to ensure that their estate is divided in line with the rules of intestacy. In either case, probate refers to bringing together and valuing the estate left by the deceased, clearing any debts still outstanding, dealing with any issues such as Inheritance Tax (IHT) and then dividing the rest of the remaining assets as set out in any will. 

The first thing to do before you apply for probate is to find out whether it is needed or not. In general terms, probate is not needed for estates with a value of less than £5,000, or if the deceased owned shares, money, land or property with other people, in which case the assets will automatically pass to the fellow owners. It is always wise to check with the financial institutions used by the deceased to ask whether you will need to apply for probate, as different organisations have different rules when it comes to the limit below which probate isn’t needed. If it transpires that you do need to apply for probate then you need to ascertain whether you are eligible to do so. The people who are eligible to apply for probate are as follows:

  • Anyone named as executor in a will written by the deceased
  • If no will was written then the closest living relative to the deceased can apply for probate. 

On average, having to apply for probate can take between six and nine months, but working alongside experts like those at Higgins Miller could reduce this timescale. Our experience of helping people to apply for probate means that we can guide clients through the more complex situations which arise if, for example, the estate in question includes business interests, or is complicated by the fact that the deceased was married more than once with each marriage producing children.

We can help you to apply for probate whether that means simply filing in the paperwork and leaving you to deal with the assets, or alternatively handling the entire process on your behalf. We can provide the basic form-filling service for a fixed fee and the more comprehensive help to apply for probate in return for a competitive hourly rate. In both cases we will work in a transparent manner, so that you’re always aware of how much our help to apply for probate is costing you. 

The first stage when you apply for probate is to register the death and inform all of the relevant financial and government bodies. The next stage is to find and read any will, finding out who has been named as executor – and there could be more than one person – and how exactly the deceased wished for their estate to be divided. Once you know that you are to act as executor it is a good idea to set up an executor’s bank account so that there is somewhere to transfer the assets of the estate when the time comes. None of the fund’s held in the deceased’s bank accounts can be released until after you apply for probate and have it granted, but setting up an account is a small step that could save some time and effort later on. 

Any debts owed by the deceased have to be paid, providing there are sufficient funds in the estate. This could include credit and store cards, personal loans and hire purchase agreements. Only the estate of the deceased is responsible for debts in their name, and not their family, and once debts have been cleared it should be possible to value the estate. This involves bringing together everything the deceased had in terms of savings, pensions, bank accounts, investments and life insurance payments etc., plus the value of any property. Assets such as property should be independently valued in order to avoid any later disagreements with HMRC, and the same is true for other assets such as jewellery, art works and motor vehicles.   

The next part of having to apply for probate involves completing an Inheritance Tax form, even if you’re convinced that the estate is too small for any IHT to be due. If the estate is worth less than the current threshold of £325,000 then you will have to fill in form IHT 205, whereas if it is worth more than this threshold the form to fill in when you apply for probate is IHT 400. We can help you to fill in these forms correctly, which can be difficult particularly if you wish to claim the additional residence nil rate band (RNRB) – an additional IHT allowance which applies to the estate of an individual left to direct descendants. In this case the forms needed to be completed are IHT 400 and IHT 435. If IHT is due then it is charged at 40% of any value of the estate above £325,000, and the amount due will have to be paid before probate can be granted, and within six months of the month in which the deceased died.  

Once you apply for probate and have it granted, you are free to access all of the assets of the deceased and divide what is left of the estate now that debts and taxes have been dealt with. If a will was written then this should simply involve following the instructions in the will. If not, then the laws of intestacy will apply, with any spouse or civil  partner of the deceased receiving everything up to the value of £270,000, and anything over that amount being divided equally between the spouse or civil partner and any children. 

If you’d like to find out more about how to apply for probate in your will please call us on 0161 429 7251 or email us at [email protected]. We’ve recently passed our Cyber Essential accreditation, something which demonstrates our forward-thinking attitude and determination to remain ahead of the competition. The first 20-minute appraisal is provided free of charge, and we’ll give you the first appointment for a fixed fee, so you don’t have to worry about how much our advice is going to cost. If you want to explore our wider charging system then please take a look here.


October 16, 2023