Grant of Probate: A Complete Guide

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Grant of Probate: A Complete Guide
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Have you ever wondered what a Grant of Probate is and why it’s so important? Let’s dive into this crucial aspect of estate administration.

If you have recently lost a loved one who was very close to you, then you will undoubtedly be going through a difficult time. Furthermore, if you are the designated ‘executor’, you may be responsible for dealing with their assets, possessions, and finances. 

But is it possible to do this without a Grant of Probate?

If you are dealing with the loss of a loved one, it is crucial to be well-informed about the Grant of Probates. We have provided comprehensive answers to various questions in the blog below, empowering you with the knowledge to navigate this situation.

What is a Grant of Probate?

A Grant of Probate is an official document issued by the Probate Registry, which gives the executor(s) of a will the legal authority to deal with the estate of someone who has died. This document confirms that the executor(s) has the right to access the deceased person’s assets, distribute them per the terms set out in the will, and take care of any outstanding estate administration matters. 

With a Grant of Probate, the executor typically has the power to do something with the estate. They cannot access bank accounts, sell property, pay off debts or distribute assets to beneficiaries. This document permits them to wrap up someone’s estate after they pass away. 

When is a Grant of Probate issued?

The Probate Registry will issue a Grant once it is satisfied that the will is legally valid and the executor(s) named are entitled to be given authority over the estate. Usually, this process is straightforward, providing a sense of ease and comfort. However, in some cases, there may be disputes over the validity of a will or uncertainty over who should rightfully be appointed executor. In such contested cases, obtaining a Grant can take much longer, and legal advice is recommended. 

Do I need a Grant of Probate?

In most cases involving a will, applying for a Grant of Probate will be necessary. Here are some key examples of when a Grant is typically required:

  • The deceased person owned property, land or other significant assets solely in their name. A Grant gives executors the recognised legal authority to take over these assets and administer the estate. 
  • Assets over £5,000 are held in the sole name of the deceased. Financial institutions usually will not release funds over £5,000 without a Grant. 
  • The deceased person had outstanding debts or liabilities which need to be resolved. Mortgage providers, for example, require a Grant before speaking with executors about the exceptional amount. 
  • Inheritance tax needs to be calculated and paid on the estate. A grant will be required as part of the inheritance tax process. 
  • There are legal disputes over the will or entitlement to be an executor. A Grant application can help confirm who has the legal authority to manage the estate. 

Certain companies and organisations request a Grant even for lower-value assets before they engage with an executor. Some banks, utility providers and insurance firms have this policy. 

In most cases, applying for a Grant of Probate is not only advisable but necessary. This document provides executors with legal recognition and access to administer an estate smoothly. 

Does it cost money to get a Grant of Probate?

Yes, there are fees involved in obtaining a Grant of Probate. The cost depends on the type of Grant and the total value of the estate:

  • In England and Wales, the standard probate application fee is £273, whether you use a solicitor or apply directly. 
  • ‘Excepted estates’ under £5,000 have no fees to pay. 

Suppose there is no will, and the estate is administered under intestacy rules. In that case, a ‘Grant of Letters of Administration’ is issued instead. The fees for this are similar. 

Legal fees will also apply if a solicitor is hired to obtain the Grant of Probate on the executor’s behalf. Solicitor fees often range from £1,000-£5,000, depending on the estate’s size and complexity. 

How long does a Grant of Probate take?

The time it takes to obtain a Grant of Probate can vary:

  • Typical straightforward cases with a clear will take 2-3 weeks from application to issuing of the Grant, but you can expect to wait up to 16 weeks. 
  • Excepted estates (under £5,000) can sometimes be processed sooner, but this is not always guaranteed. 

Complex or disputed cases often take several months to resolve, as further enquiries are required. If inheritance or other taxes apply, this can further extend the process. It may speed up the process to have a solicitor apply on behalf of executors. 

Factors affecting timescales include:

  • How transparent and legally compliant is the will? Contested or ambiguous wills cause delays. 
  • The number and cooperation of executors applying for Probate. Missing executors must be traced. 
  • If inheritance tax and tax returns need to be completed for HMRC. 
  • Workloads and backlogs at the Probate Registry. Some periods are busier than others.  
  • Legal disputes over assets or entitlement must be investigated and resolved. 

Executors can help speed up Probate by ensuring the will is valid, gathering all documents, working cooperatively, and using a legal professional. But ultimately, the Probate Registry controls the pace, and sudden delays are not uncommon. 

Can you sell a house before a Grant of Probate?

Technically, an executor can only legally sell a property after they have obtained the Grant of Probate. The Grant gives them the recognised authority to make such transactions, so a sale is not meant to be ahead without it. 

However, there are a couple of options that may allow a property sale to be completed before Probate has been granted:

  • The beneficiaries can confirm their agreement to the sale by signing a form. If all parties consent, you can work around the legal ownership issues. 
  • A trustee, such as a solicitor, can be appointed temporarily to commence the sale. They have a legal duty to obtain a Grant once appointed. 
  • The title owners can be changed to the beneficiaries via a deed of variation before the sale starts. This transfers ownership outside of Probate. 
  • Sometimes, the Probate Registry will issue an interim Grant quickly to authorise the sale. Proof that a sale is time-pressured will be required. 

However, these are not guaranteed solutions, and some mortgage lenders or buyers may still be willing to proceed with a total Grant in place. Taking any of these steps also adds extra costs and delays compared to a regular sale after Probate. 

If you have inherited a property in the probate process—for example, a flat that you are keen to sell fast—you may want to rush ahead. But you should make sure to wait for the Grant of Probate to come through, as you risk breaking the law if not.

Things to keep in mind throughout the Probate process

Applying for a Grant of Probate to administer an estate can seem daunting and stressful for executors and families at a difficult time. Here are a few practical tips to help the process go smoothly:

  • Locate the latest signed and witnessed will and check for any codicils or amendments. The Probate Registry will require the original version. 
  • Notify all relevant organisations, such as banks, utilities and insurance firms, of the death. Ask for their requirements before providing a Grant. 
  • Contact and inform all beneficiaries named in the will and obtain their identification documents. 
  • Check for any jointly owned assets that may now transfer automatically to a spouse. These don’t usually form part of Probate. 
  • Consider the inheritance tax position and reliefs available. Seek specialist tax advice if substantial assets are involved. 
  • Select a legal professional to assist with Probate if required. Compare solicitors to find out who is affordable and experienced. 

Probate is a word that can cause people to panic – but it doesn’t have to be that way. By being well-informed on the subject and getting support from a qualified expert where necessary, you can get everything sorted without too much stress.

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