In this guide we look at the question what is probate and how long it takes. And importantly, we look at how to get it if you have recently inherited a property.

The definition of probate via probate solicitors

In England and Wales, Probate is the term used to describe both the legal and financial frameworks used for dealing with the assets of a person who has recently died. These assets will include property, money and possessions of what is often termed the ‘deceased’s estate’. The eventual goal is to set out how a deceased’s person’s estate is to be distributed.

In order that the next of kin or an Executor named in a Will can make a claim, transfer, sell or distribute any of the deceased’s assets they may have to apply for probate.

Probate will be granted via either a ‘Grant of Probate’ or ‘Letters of Administration’. Once in place, the next of kin or an Executor can start dealing with the deceased person’s assets in accordance with their Will. If the deceased person died without a Will the law will determine who should receive everything.

When is probate required?

In England and Wales probate is usually required if:

  • The person who died owned a property, house or land
  • A bank or any other financial institution asks for a Grant Probate or Letters of Administration (also called a ‘Grant of Representation’). This will be due to a bank or financial institution having their own threshold for probate reasons. See more details below under ‘what is the threshold for probate?’

When is probate not required?

Contrary to popular belief, the need to apply for probate doesn’t just depend on whether there’s a will in place or not. Instead it depends on the financial position of the person who has died at the time of their death.

An application for probate may not be required if the person who died was a joint landowner with yourself, or you jointly owned property, shares or money. These assets may automatically pass to you. However, if the person who died owned assets that were not directly connected with you, it is highly likely you will still need to go through the probate process.

If you’re still unsure if probate is required, we suggest you get sound advice from your local solicitors office.

What is the threshold for probate?

The threshold for triggering probate can vary wildly and is ultimately driven by banks and financial institutions. These organisations have the power to decide the threshold they feel comfortable working within before a Grant of Probate is required. Should they feel it necessary they can ask that probate is obtained even in instances where the asset value falls below their minimum threshold for probate.

Thresholds for probate are in the region of £5,000 – £50,000. Here’s a list of some of the largest high street banks thresholds as examples:

Barclays Bank: £50,000
Bank of Scotland: £25,000
Co-op Bank: £30,000
First Direct: £20,000
Halifax: £50,000
Lloyds: £50,000
Nationwide: £30,000
NatWest: £25,000
Post Office: £10,000
Royal Bank of Scotland: £25,000
Santander: £50,000

Please note that these are the current threshold rates and are always subject to change.

How does probate work?

Trying to decide how to go about an application for probate can be a challenge. Here we take a look at how this works.

The probate process explained in 5 steps

The probate process is effectively a thorough and detailed check of the deceased’s person’s financial standing at the time of death. Ultimately it involves a good deal of work looking into both legal and financial documents. Let’s look at this in 5 steps:

Step 1

This involves identifying all of the deceased person’s assets and liabilities. This means carefully identifying all assets (property, money and possessions) and debts (loans, mortgages general invoices and utility bills). Having completed this you can then calculate the true and net value of the deceased’s estate. You can do this by subtracting the sum of liabilities from the total assets.

This work is typically carried out by specialist wills and probate solicitors. They will also check for any entitlements to the deceased’s estate whilst referring to any Will as well as Intestacy Laws if the person died without a will.

Step 2

Organising the payment of Inheritance Tax to HM Revenue & Customs (where necessary). During this stage it is vital that you submit an inheritance tax return regardless of whether or not there is tax to pay. Failure to do so could mean a penalty or fine later on. Typically, probate solicitors will also apply to the Probate Registry for the legal documentation termed Grant of Representation. This confirms the legal authority to administer the deceased person’s estate.

Step 3

Once the Probate Registry has issued the Grant of Representation you are then free to sell the deceased’s assets. This will typically be carried out by your chosen wills and probate solicitors. As stated previously, this could include property, money and other possessions. At the same time, you can settle all liabilities and accounts where you have sufficient money to cover these. These may include expenses such as solicitor’s fees as well as outstanding loans, inheritance tax, capital gains and income tax (where applicable).

Step 4

At this stage, your solicitors will draw up a detailed statement of accounts. This will list all payments both into and out of the entire estate. It’s at this point that any balance money will finally be listed for distribution to the beneficiaries. The estate accounts will then be sent to all Personal Representatives (executors) for final approval.

Step 5

The final stage involves checking there haven’t been any challenges to the estate. Providing there aren’t any, the final step involves transferring any assets that the beneficiaries wish to retain themselves and then distributing any remaining funds.

More advice on dealing with someone’s estate when they die can be found on the Money Advice Service website.

What is a Grant of Probate?

The Grant of Probate is the legal binding document that confirms the Executor’s name and their authority to deal with the deceased person’s estate. The Grant of Probate confirms the Executor has the legal right to distribute the assets in-line with the instructions of the Will. Once complete, this will remain as a permanent record on the probate registry.

How long does a grant of probate take?

Provided there are no complications, applying for a grant of probate typically takes around 4 – 8 weeks from the time of submission.

However, remember this is only the start. The time it takes to then complete the distribution of all remaining property, money and possession between the beneficiaries will vary. Ultimately this will depend on whether there are matters such as selling a property that has been inherited. A typical timeframe for completing the probate process and the final distribution of assets is around 9 – 12 months.

Applying for probate – getting everything ready

If you’re an executor in a will you can apply yourself. Alternatively, you can appoint somebody else licensed to do this on your behalf such as a qualified solicitor.

Before you can apply you should:

  • check if you need probate
  • check if you can apply
  • have a fair idea of the total value of the estate so that it can be reported
  • hold the original Will

If the person left a will, you’ll receive a Grant of Probate.

If the person did not leave a will, you’ll receive Letters of Administration.

How to apply for probate

Provided you’ve met all four of the above criteria you’re free to apply for probate yourself. Bear in mind that you’ll need to spend some time learning the complexities of applying and may have to explain this to all beneficiaries.

Making an application for probate online

If you’re the Executor or Administrator of a Will you can apply for probate online via the Government website where you’ll find all of the probate forms. You’ll need to meet the following conditions in order to proceed:

  • hold the original will if you’re the executor (you don’t need the will if you’re an administrator)
  • have the original death certificate or an interim death certificate from the coroner
  • have already reported the estate’s value
  • have submitted tax forms to HMRC and waited 20 working days, if you need to pay Inheritance Tax

Note that the person who died must have lived in England or Wales most of the time.

How much does probate cost?

Probate fees and costs vary greatly depending on who carries out the work. Solicitors typically charge by the hour or as a fixed rate. When trying to work out how much the whole process is going to cost it’s best to contact a number of solicitors. They’ll be able to explain the probate process to you.

How much do solicitors charge for probate?

The average cost for a solicitor dealing with a probate claim is between 1 – 2% (+vat) of the overall estate value.

Probate application fees

There are two classifications of fees when applying for probate via the Government website:

If the total value of the estate is £5,000 or more and you’re applying yourself, the probate application fee is £215.00. If you are applying via a solicitor the fee is £155.00.

If the total value of the estate is under £5,000 there are no application fees.

Consider doing some of the work yourself

The Money Advice Service says while in some situations it is wise to seek expert advice, it is common for relatives and friends to do the work of the Executor themselves. By doing this, you could save a good deal of money.

Can you sell a house before probate is granted?

In theory there is nothing stopping you marketing a house for sale before obtaining a Grant of Probate. However, we wouldn’t recommend it. You’ll more than likely need to have all of the beneficiaries on side beforehand so as not to cause any ill feeling. It may be the case that one or two of the beneficiaries wish to retain the property to either to live in it or rent it out as a long-term investment.

Bear in mind that if you did market the property for sale that it couldn’t complete until probate is finalised.

How long does it take to sell a house through probate?

Once granted, selling a house in probate is fairly similar to any other property sale. You can get a house valuation from any established high street estate agent. We’d recommned you get three valuations so that you can compare them. Agents will be able to talk you through how selling an inherited property could work. This will include looking at how best to market the property and at what price. You may want to obtain several probate house valuations by inviting along a number of agents. But be careful as some estate agents make a charge for this service.

The quickest routes to selling a house in probate

If you’re looking for a quick and hassle-free sale you have two distinct options ahead. These include selling through an auction house or via a home buying company that specialises in buying probate houses. Both of these routes will offer greater certainty and speed in selling a house in probate. And this could be just what you’re looking for.

In summary

Probate can be a complex issue depending on your circumstances. Be sure to take sound legal advice before proceeding.

Has this blog been helpful or has it left you with many new questions? If so, you may want to read our detailed guide to inheriting a house.

Let us know your thoughts by leaving a short comment below. We’d love to hear from you.