The probate process explained

Probate is the process of dealing with the estate of someone who has died, which generally means clearing their debts and distributing their assets in accordance with their will. Being named executor or administrator of someone’s estate can seem daunting at first. But with a little help and advice, the probate process needn’t be stressful.

What does ‘probate’ mean?

The term ‘probate’ refers to the act of getting permission to carry out the wishes specified in a person’s will. In a broader sense, this term can also apply to the overall process of settling a person’s estate. Whoever is responsible for executing the will must abide by specific rules that dictate how to notify authorities and actually distribute the estate.

For permission to manage this process, you’ll need to apply for a grant of probate, or grant of confirmation in Scotland. There are separate rules if someone dies without a will, otherwise known as dying intestate.

How does probate work?

The term ‘probate’ refers to the act of getting permission to carry out the wishes specified in a person’s will. In a broader sense, this term can also apply to the overall process of settling a person’s estate. Whoever is responsible for executing the will must abide by specific rules that dictate how to notify authorities and actually distribute the estate.

The process for settling someone’s affairs will depend on whether you choose to do it yourself, or appoint a professional to act on your behalf. Appointing a professional can be a good idea and, if you are dealing with a complex estate, could be essential.

If you choose to carry out the will yourself, you will need to fill out the relevant forms (and, in England, apply to the Probate Registry) to obtain the right to act as an executor. Then you will be required to gather all the deceased individual’s assets and distribute them amongst the beneficiaries.

This will involve notifying banks, building societies, relevant government departments (such as the council and HMRC) of the person’s death, settling any accounts they hold, tallying up their assets and liabilities, paying off any inheritance tax that might be owed, and then distributing their assets.

Who is the executor of a will?

The person who administers probate is known as the ‘executor’ and is generally appointed in the deceased’s will. In most cases, the executor will be a family member or friend of the deceased. But it’s also possible to appoint a professional executor, typically a solicitor or will writer.

Professional executors will expect to be paid from the proceeds of the estate for carrying out this duty. They normally carry out the entire probate process and receive a fee for this, too.

Frequently Asked Questions

Often, your first experience with probate comes when a loved one dies, and you’re named as their executor. Below, we round up commonly asked questions from first-time executors.

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