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A Beginners Guide to Probate:

How exactly do you get a grant of probate?

If you want to know exactly what a grant of probate is and the difference between a Grant of Probate and a Grant of Letters of Administration then you need to look at our Probate FAQ page. This page deals with the mechanics of getting Probate and what you do once you've got it.

Although this page is headed probate, you only get a Grant of Probate if the deceased died leaving a will; if they died without leaving a Will then it's called a Grant of Letters of Administration (yes I know it's a bit of a mouthful). Don't be fooled by the word 'grant' - this has nothing to do with students - the grant being talked about is effectively a certificate that you are entitled to wind up the deceased person's estate.

On this page we will use the phrase "Grant of Representation" to cover both a Grant of Probate and a Grant of Letters of Administration.

There are essentially two stages to dealing with a deceased’s estate - firstly obtaining the Grant of Representation and secondly Administering the Estate:

Stage 1. Obtaining the Grant of Representation

There are two steps to this process. To try and avoid confusion lets call them steps a and b.

Step a:- You will need to swear an oath, (basically a form) which will confirm that you are the correct person to deal with the deceased’s estate, and will confirm certain details about the deceased such as their name and date of birth.

Step b:- Next you will have to complete a tax form or two. If the estate is worth less than £325,000, then most of the time you will have to complete a very basic tax form and won’t even have to submit it to the Inland Revenue (Now actually called Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs, or HMRC). But sometimes, whether or not the estate is worth over £325,000, there are potentially several other forms you will need to complete and file formally with HMRC. HMRC can take several weeks or even months to approve these forms.

Once you have completed these two steps, you can apply for the Grant of Representation. It should then take around two weeks for the Grant of Representation to return from the Probate Registry, and that’s it. What you will get back is an official looking document that basically certifies that you are entitled to sign things in relation to the winding up of the deceased's estate (e.g. getting money out of bank accounts, selling property owned by the deceased - that sort of thing)

Stage 2. Administering the Estate

This can be the hard part. Basically what you are looking to do now is to carry out the wishes of the deceased. If they left a Will then you should be trying to do what the Will says. If they didn't leave a Will then there are rules (called the rules of intestacy) which set out who should receive what from the estate.

On a basic level you will need to gather in assets of the estate (so get money out of bank accounts, maybe sell shares, maybe sell property), pay off any debts of the estate, and distribute what's left according to the Will or rules of intestacy. You will also have to send a copy of the Grant of Representation to certain organisations so they can amend their records to show that the person has died. You may well also have to file tax returns with HMRC.

This can take anything from a matter of days to many years. For example, if you just have to close one bank account and pass the proceeds to a surviving spouse of the deceased, then it should be quite quick. But if there are properties or businesses to sell, the process can take some time and will require care. If the Will is carelessly drafted then this can complicate things still further.