Probate – What actually is it?!

This is a question which I am often asked by family members, friends and random people I meet at networking events!  Possibly the simplest answer is that it is a term generally used to mean the process of administering someone’s estate after they have died – of dealing with their financial assets and accounts and bringing these to a conclusion with distribution to their beneficiaries.

There is also a specific document which is often encountered during this process, which is called a ‘Grant of Probate.’ In its simplest form this is a document issued by the Probate Registry which confirms the identity of Executors appointed by a Will. This document can then be used by the Executors to prove they are entitled to deal with the estate and to administer larger assets, including property.

Where there are no Executors (either because there is no Will, or all the Executors appointed have died, lost capacity or have decided not to act), then the equivalent document is known as a ‘Grant of Letters of Administration.’ There are also more esoteric ‘Grants’ which have a specific purpose for particular situations, although I do not need to go into those here.

Going back though to Probate as a process, the administration of an estate very broadly falls into 5 sections:

  1. Find out whether there is a valid Will at date of death and who the Executors are. If there appears to be no Will, searches must be carried out and if no Will is found, a family tree will have to be drawn up to find out who the beneficiaries of the estate will be as determined by the Intestacy Rules. One of those beneficiaries can then generally act as an ‘Administrator’ to take out Grant of Letters of Administration and deal with the rest of the estate as an Executor would;
  2. Find out exactly what is in the deceased’s financial estate, both assets and liabilities outstanding at date of death, and make sure you have current valuations or balances for everything;
  3. Assess whether there is any Inheritance Tax to be paid, before applying for a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration. These applications can mostly be completed online now, although there are still cases where a paper application has to be made, and you may need legal advice on this;
  4. Once the Grant has been issued, collect in accounts and cash, possibly sell assets where needed and make sure all liabilities are settled;
  5. Finally distribute the estate in accordance with the terms of the Will (or the Intestacy Rules), and prepare final Accounts.

As an Executor or Administrator dealing with Probate you can find yourself dealing with a large amount of paperwork still, even though there are online alternatives for some banks and companies, and there can often be legal issues to navigate along the way. Although the sections listed above may seem straightforward, there are complications which can arise at each step.

This is a very responsible task to undertake and you may well encounter frustrations and difficulties.  It is important that if appointed as Executor, you give careful consideration as to whether you would want to take up this role, and we can offer advice and help to Executors who are considering stepping back or down.

You may wish to consider appointing a solicitor to help you with the process from start to finish, who can advise on both any legal issues which crop up, and also support you with the practical aspects of corresponding with a sometimes surprisingly large number of different financial institutions and beneficiaries.

At Else Solicitors we pride ourselves on offering a bespoke service to Executors and Administrators when dealing with estate administration – we can help with the whole process from start to final distributions, or come on board for specific aspects of the estate. For example we offer a fixed fee service to help with the Inheritance tax declarations and application for Probate, then passing everything back to you to complete the rest of the estate.

For more information please contact Kathryn Caple on 01283 526200 or email

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