Applying for probate is a difficult business.
When someone dies, the executors (those people nominated by the deceased to manage their will) need to apply for a grant of probate, which allows them access to the property and possessions within the estate. If someone dies with a will, they will be granted probate, but if they die intestate (without a will), they will not. Many people will have died intestate during the last year, due to unexpectedly early death due to the pandemic.
Being currently in the midst of executing my own mother's will, I can tell you from personal experience that it is a frustrating and time-consuming business. When you apply for probate, you need to value the deceased person ’ s estate (i.e. the money, property and possessions). To do this, you must establish their assets and debts. You will need to contact banks, pension companies, investment companies etc. as relevant and utilities, such as gas, electricity and phone companies. You will also need to get the property valued by a reputable estate agent. The value of the estate will determine if and how much Inheritance Tax you will have to pay. This will be decided by HMRC once you have submitted all the details needed to apply for a grant of probate. It can take from a couple of months to well over a year to gain probate, depending on the complexity of the estate.
There are some very important things to bear in mind:
- If you use a solicitor, ask around for one who comes highly recommended and agree an upfront fee for the probate process, or it could cost you a fortune
- Don't assume that your solicitor (if you choose to use one) will get everything right. You must go through all the forms in detail yourself to ensure there are no errors
- If the estate you are administering is worth more than £325,000, including all property and assets, you will have to complete a complex series of Inheritance Tax (IHT) forms. The main one is the IHT 400, but there are many supplementary forms to be completed. Ask another executor if there is one, or a trusted family member or friend, to check your figures for accuracy before the forms are sent to HMRC to avoid further delays
- HMRC are extremely helpful if you need to call them for advice, so if you do need to ask a question, call them
- Regardless of whether or not IHT is due, you must complete a PA1P form, which is sent to the Probate Office to obtain the Grant of Probate. Without the Grant of Probate, you cannot access the deceased estate
- If you have to pay IHT, you must send the forms to HMRC two weeks prior to sending your probate form to the Probate Office.
- You have to pay the IHT due, or a portion of it with the rest payable in instalments, BEFORE the probate office will grant probate
- When you send in the IHT forms, you should pay the Probate Office fee at that time to avoid delays and then send the PA1P in two weeks later.
- Order extra copies of the grant when you pay. You will need several copies for banks, share companies and property sales.
- Probate costs £215, plus £1.50 per copy of the grant.
You may think that having completed the above process, you can sit back and relax, but it is only half the job. The next part begins when you have received the grant and need to begin executing the will and paying the beneficiaries. This is not as easy as it sounds, because:
- Every single bank has a different form to complete and has a different set of identification criteria, as do the share companies
- They are very slow to pay and you need to chase them up. This requires hours waiting in a telephone queue
- If there are any shares to be sold or transferred, bear in mind that many of the share companies charge excessive fees to executors to register the Grant and to reissue cheques etc. For example, one company charged £63 to reissue one check. Another charged a £90 fee to send a payment - a third of the total value of the payment. It is hard to understand how such exorbitant fees can be justifiable. And currently, when over 100,000 in the UK have died in the past twelve months from Covid alone, not to mention the many who have died from other causes, share companies must be having a profitable year. Obviously, not everyone will own shares, but even so, it must be significant.
- If you are selling a property as a result of a death, you can market the property and exchange, but can only complete once you have the Grant of Probate. If you exchange without the Grant, you need to put a longstop date for completion into the contract to ensure that you allow sufficient time for the Grant to process. Currently, as with all things during the current climate, Probate is taking longer than usual, so allow for that.
In summary, applying for Probate is time-consuming, costly and often emotionally draining. Take your time.
For more helpful advice on managing Probate and all aspects of managing issues relating to later life, click here