Applying for the legal right to deal with someone's property, money and possessions (their 'estate') when they die is called 'applying for probate'. If the person left a will, a 'grant of probate' is issued. If the person did not leave a will, 'letters of administration' is issued.
Only certain people can apply for probate to deal with the estate of someone who has died. It depends on whether the person who died left a will. A will states what should happen to a person's property and belongings after they die. It is usually valid if it is signed by the person who made it and two witnesses. If the person did not leave a will, it is the 'administrator' who deals with the estate.
In both cases, an application for the grant has to be made and this attracts a fee. Currently the fee is £215 if the value of the estate exceeds £5,000 (or £155 if a solicitor makes the application). There is no fee if the estate is valued under £5,000 (but in this case, a grant might not be needed at all).
We have reported in earlier newsletters about the proposal to increase probate fees on a sliding scale depending on the value of the property to up to £6,000. We can report that the Order which was going to increase the probate fees has also fallen victim of prorogation, so the fees will not increase until such time as the government decides to re-introduce it, if at all.
The grant of probate (or letters of administration) is a vital document as it is this which enables the personal representatives to close the bank accounts of the deceased, sell property and deal with the administration of the estate.
It is interesting to note that there have been a lot of delays reported in the issuing of grants of probate in recent months. This means that it has not been possible to progress administering estates which can cause distress and financial difficulties for beneficiaries. The probate service point to a high backlog of cases as part of the reason for the delays. It is likely that a large number of applications were made in haste in anticipation of the increase in probate fees, which has now been withdrawn.
The probate service has also reported that basic errors in relation to applications cause delays. It can be tempting for an individual to apply for a grant – but specialist advice means that any complex issues (such as inheritance tax) will be properly handled and the application for probate should be accurate. This offers important protection for personal representatives who take on personal liability when agreeing to administer an estate.
To discuss this or any other probate matter, contact us.