Grant of probate

Obtaining probate means making a probate application to the Probate Registry for a grant of representation, which will be a grant of probate or a grant of letters of administration depending on whether you left a will or not.

Who can apply for probate?

A probate application can be made by your executors or administrators or by a solicitor or professional probate company on their behalf. We can put you in touch with one of our recommended firms of solicitors: just talk to us using our chat facility.

Before the probate application is made

Before obtaining probate, the size and complexity of your estate needs to be assessed, and your executors will need to work out whether there is any inheritance tax to pay (see our page Who pays inheritance tax?).

To do this, they will need to collect details of your assets and liabilities. This may just involve bank and building society accounts but it could be more complex if you had any investments, properties or other valuable personal possessions. Before applying for probate, they will also need to obtain details of any cash gifts you made in the seven years before you died as there may be inheritance tax to pay in respect of these.

The probate application requires the value of your assets to be calculated as at the date of death.

Making the probate application

There are now two ways to apply for probate of a will, on paper or online. An application for representation if there was no will has to be made on paper. For paper applications you should follow the steps below.

  • Complete the relevant probate application form. If the deceased had a will, you need to use Form PA1P. If the deceased did not have a will, you must use Form PA1A. You can contact the Probate and Inheritance Tax helpline to get help filling in the form. 
  • Complete the relevant inheritance tax form:
    • Form IHT 205 if the estate is below the IHT threshold (currently £325,000); or
    • Form IHT 400 if the estate is above the IHT threshold.
  • Send the Form PA1 and Form IHT205 to your local Probate Registry (if Form IHT400 has been used it should be sent directly to HMRC) together with:
    • the original will and any codicils (and three copies);
    • an official copy of the death certificate; and
    • the application fee of £215 - a cheque made payable to HM Courts and Tribunals Service (there is no fee if the estate is under £5,000). Additional copies of the grant can be ordered for 50p each.
  • Swear an oath to confirm that the details given are correct (this can be done at your local Probate Registry or at a local solicitor's office).

In some straightforward situations you can apply for probate online. Up to four people can apply for probate online, as long as the testator regarded themselves as resident in England and Wales. You will need:

  • to complete the relevant IHT forms;
  • to provide
    • the original will, including up to four codicils, and two copies (if the will has more than 4 codicils you will not be able to apply online);
    • an official copy of the death certificate;
  • to make a statement of truth (rather than swear an oath);
  • to pay the probate application fee, which you can do online.

For further information see the Government’s information page.

Obtaining probate and inheritance tax

Before probate is granted, any inheritance tax due must be paid, and this must be within six months after the end of the month of death. For instance, in the case of a death on 5 February, the tax is due by 31 August.

If one of your bank accounts has enough money, it may be possible to arrange for the funds to be transferred directly to HMRC using Form IHT423. If the main asset of your estate is property or shares, your executors are able to pay the inheritance tax in instalments and only a tenth of the total is required to be paid before obtaining probate. This is because your executors may find it difficult to sell the property quickly.  Your executors should also be aware, however, that interest will be due on the unpaid instalments.  Certain unlisted company shares also qualify for the instalment concession.

What if executors cannot find the funds to pay the inheritance tax in time?

It is not normally possible for your executors to use your assets without a grant of probate, and the grant of probate will not be issued until the inheritance tax is paid. This can cause some problems but it is usually possible to arrange for a bank or building society to release funds directly to HMRC to pay inheritance tax.  This can be done using Form IHT423.   

If there are not sufficient liquid funds in your estate (for example, the value of the estate is in shares or property), then your executors may have to arrange a short-term loan.  In this situation they may want to elect to pay the inheritance tax by instalments, wherever possible, to reduce the borrowing.

Paying debts before a grant of probate is obtained

It is best practice for your executors to wait and pay any debts of your estate once a grant of probate has been obtained and their authority to deal with your estate has been confirmed. However, if you have sufficient liquid assets that your executors can access, they are able to settle debts before they get a grant if necessary.

If you haven't left a will, none of your debts will be able to be settled until your personal representatives have obtained a grant of letters of administration. Until then, they do not have authority to deal with your estate.

What to do once executors have the grant of representation

Once your executors have received the grant of probate, there are a number of steps they will need to take in order to finalise the administration of your estate:

  • Register the grant of probate with all banks, building societies, company registrars etc, – everyone with whom you had financial dealings.
  • Close your accounts and collect all the assets of your estate.
  • Pay the debts and expenses of your estate.
  • Advertise for creditors, to protect themselves against any further debts.
  • Tell the Inheritance Tax Office if there are any adjustments to the figures. Obtain a letter from them confirming that all the inheritance tax due has been paid on the estate.
  • Make sure HMRC agrees that your income and capital gains tax affairs are finalised, and that any tax arising in the estate after death has been paid.
  • If they are sure no one will make any claim against your estate, and that they are protected against debtors, pay the legacies. Where property is to be transferred to beneficiaries rather than sold, make the transfers.
  • Draw up accounts to show all the financial transactions in the estate and how it has been distributed. Copy these to the residuary beneficiaries.
  • Transfer the final balance, after debts, expenses and legacies, to the residuary beneficiaries. If the residuary beneficiary has a lasting power of attorney because they lack the mental capacity to give a valid receipt, their share can instead be transferred to their attorney. 
  • Keep the grant and all the relevant papers safely, in case any queries are raised in future.

This is only a very brief overview of what is required to administer an estate, and many things can make the process more complicated. In anything other than a straightforward administration your executors may consider appointing a professional to work on their behalf.