How to avoid the probate pitfalls
A look at the steps to take in England and Wales (the process differs in Scotland and Northern Ireland).
Step 1 – Value the estate to see if you need a grant of representation
When you might not need a grant of representation
A grant may not be needed if the estate:
is a low-value estate – generally worth less than £5,000 (though this figure can vary) – and doesn’t include land, property or shares
passes to the surviving spouse/civil partner because it was held in joint names
When you contact the deceased’s bank or other financial institutions, they will either release the funds or tell you to get a grant of representation (or confirmation) first.
Some banks and financial institutions may insist on a grant before giving you access to even a small amount of money.
When a grant of representation is usually needed
You will almost certainly need a grant if the estate includes:
assets generally worth more than £5,000 in total (though again this figure varies)
land or property in the sole name of the deceased, or held as tenants in common with someone else
stocks or shares
some insurance policies
Step 2 – Applying for a grant of representation
You’ll have to fill in an Inheritance Tax form in addition to the PA1 Probate Application form, even if the estate doesn’t owe Inheritance Tax. The estate will only owe Inheritance Tax if it’s over the threshold currently £325,000 (frozen until April 2014).
The Inheritance Tax forms you need depend on the following:
where the deceased lived – England
and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland or abroad
the size of the estate
whether it is an excepted estate (i.e. you don’t need to fill in a full Inheritance Tax account – form IHT400)
Usually, if an estate has no Inheritance Tax to pay, it will be an excepted estate. However, this is not always the case. Some estates that don’t owe Inheritance Tax still require a full Inheritance Tax account.
If you’re not sure whether the estate is an excepted estate, you’ll need to start filling in a Return of Estate Information form (form IHT205 in England and Wales).
Depending on your answers to certain questions, the form will make clear when you should stop filling in that form and switch to form IHT400 (a full Inheritance Tax account) instead.
Step 3 – Send the forms to the relevant government bodies
Send completed IHT205 forms and the PA1 Probate Application form to your nearest Probate Registry.
You’ll also have to include the original will (if there is one), the death certificate, and the probate fee. If you’ve filled in form IHT400, follow the instructions on page 55 of the IHT400 guidance notes.
The process is different in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Step 4 – Pay any Inheritance Tax due
If the estate owes Inheritance Tax, you won’t receive the grant of representation (or confirmation) unless you pay some or all of the Inheritance Tax first. The due date is six months after the date of death.
Steps 5 to 7 – What happens next?
Once you’ve paid any Inheritance Tax and sent off the forms to the Probate Registry, the process takes about eight weeks if there are no problems. There are three stages:
examination of forms and documents – Probate Registry staff check the forms and documents and prepare the papers for your interview
swear the oath – all the personal representatives who have applied for a grant of representation will need to swear an oath, either at the Probate Registry or local probate office
probate is granted – the grant of representation is sent to you by post from the Probate Registry
After you get the grant of representation (or confirmation) and have paid any Inheritance Tax due, you can collect in the money from the estate. You can then pay any debts owed by the estate and distribute the estate according to the will or the rules of intestacy.