8 Tips for Obtaining probate

Probate is needed in order to administer the estate of a deceased person.  If someone dies without a will, a next of kin will need to get what is known as a ‘grant of representation’ to distribute the estate.  If the deceased left a will an executor will need to obtain a ‘grant of probate’.


If you are a surviving spouse and all your assets were jointly held you do not need to obtain probate.


There are 7 main steps to obtaining probate.


1.Register the death


You'll need a copy of the death certificate for each of the deceased's assets (eg, each bank account, credit card, mortgage etc), so before you can start probate, you'll need to register the death.


2.Find out if there's a will  


A will may contain other instructions such as funeral plans. If there's a will it will who the executor is. It also names who'll get any assets left. If there isn’t a will any beneficiaries of the estate – usually a close relative such as a spouse, child or parent – can apply to the probate registry to be what is known as an 'administrator' of the estate instead.


3.Apply for a grant of probate and sort inheritance tax  


Once you know who the executor is,  they need to apply for a document known as a 'grant'. (If there is more than one executor, only one needs to apply.) It shows you have the right to access funds, sort finances and share out assets.

You'll need to fill out a probate application form and inheritance tax form to get the grant. 1. Complete a probate application form. PA1P. 2. Complete an inheritance tax form. At the same time as submitting the probate application form, you have to submit a form to HMRC to see if the estate is liable for inheritance tax (IHT). If it's below the IHT threshold (£325,000), use form IHT205, or IHT400 if it's above. A new allowance was introduced in the 2017/18 tax year that will is called the residence nil rate band.  If there is a tax bill and there's enough money in a bank account of the deceased to cover the amount due, it should be possible to arrange a direct payment to HMRC.  If there isn't enough money, you'll have to pay out of your own pocket (if you can) and recoup the money from the estate after probate – or take a loan from a bank. The loan can then be repaid from the estate after the grant has been issued and assets released. But even if the money is borrowed, an estate that consists mainly of the family home may not have enough cash or other assets to repay it. So the family home may have to be sold or mortgaged to do so.


3. Send your application.


Next you'll need to send your application to your local probate registry. You should include: - Probate application form PA1P. - Inheritance tax form IHT205 or IHT400. - An official copy of the death certificate. - The original will and three copies. - The application fee – a cheque for £155 (if using a solicitor) or £215 made payable to HM Courts & Tribunals Service.


4. Tell ALL organisations and close accounts


You'll need to tell every organisation you can think of that the deceased had a relationship with, including Government bodies and financial and utility companies. This makes sure you fulfil your responsibilities, get back money owed and ensure no more charges are taken. Go through all paperwork and files to find who they had accounts with.


5. Pay off any debts  

Debts will normally need to be paid, but only if the deceased had money left. This includes mortgages, loans, credit and store cards, hire purchase agreements and any other commercial debt – excluding student loans.

Make the effort to find other beneficiaries. If there is estate left to share out, it could be worth advertising this in The Gazette (the official public record for notices such as these) and the local newspaper covering the area (particularly if it's a property). Notices cost about £70, but can be claimed back from the estate.

Under the Trustee Act 1925 placing the advertisement means the executor would not be liable if someone came forward later that the executor did not know about at the time of the notice. You must wait at least two months and one day from the date of the advertisement before sharing out the estate.


Debts in joint names. The debt will now be the sole responsibility of the surviving person.

Check for insurance. This is well worth investigating in case debts are covered by the deceased's life insurance or PPI.


Mortgages must be paid. This applies even if there's no insurance. In the worst case, you may have to sell the property, but if you're in trouble, contact the lender to discuss options.

If all the deceased's assets pass to their surviving partner there may be no money left in the estate to pay any debts, which could mean they're written off.


6. Claim on any life insurance plans  


Life insurance usually pays a lump sum to the spouse or family after the insured person dies. So if the deceased had a life insurance or mortgage life insurance plan, call the provider to let it know they've passed away, and to start the claims process.


7. Money held in financial institutions.


Property and land.


Businesses.


Investments – stocks, shares, ISAs etc.


Personal items – eg, jewellery, musical instruments, stamp collections, cars etc.

Contents of home.


Money payable on death from a pension (excluding ongoing pension payments to a surviving partner).


Life insurance payments paid on death, although as above, tax will not be due on policies held in trust.


Loans made by the deceased to another person.


Certain types of trust from which the deceased benefited (consider getting professional advice on this).


An alternatively secured pension fund from which the deceased benefited.

Bank accounts can be added up easily, but property may need a proper valuation to work out what it's worth Insurance payouts after death may count as part of the estate, depending on the policy, so factor this in.

Gifts given by the deceased within seven years of their death may need to be taken into account, as well as assets they had an interest in (for example, if they gave property to their kids but lived in it rent-free).

8. Share out the remaining assets  Once you've gone through all these steps, you'll be pleased to hear there's only one big financial task left to tackle – to share out what's left of the estate.

Here, whatever's left once all debts and taxes are paid needs to be distributed. If there's a will, this should be simple as it should state where any remaining assets go.

If there isn't a will, the assets are distributed under the 'rules of intestacy' (though the beneficiaries can agree among themselves to redistribute it as they wish).

Generally these mean that if the deceased was married or in a civil partnership with an estate worth £250,000 or less, everything goes to the husband, wife or civil partner.


If you weren't married or in a civil partnership, sadly you won't automatically get a share of the estate. But if the person who's died hasn't left you anything in their will, you've the option to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 in England and Wales.


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