When a person dies somebody must sort out the estate, which includes any money, property and possessions the deceased has left. If you’re the person doing this, you collect in all the money, pay any debts and share out the estate to those people entitled to it. You can pay a solicitor to sort out the estate for you.
Applying for probate
To sort out someone’s estate, you may need to apply for a 'grant of representation', also known as 'probate'. You can complete the probate application form yourself or use a solicitor.
For help filling in the form, call the Inheritance Tax and Probate helpline on 0300 123 1072. They can also help you understand inheritance tax responsibilities and get paper copies of forms.
You’ll then receive a ‘grant of probate’ if the person left a will, or ‘letters of administration’ if there is no will. Your local probate registry will send you the forms you need with notes and guidance on what you have to do.
A grant of probate or letters of administration are legal documents which allow the person or persons named to collect and distribute the estate of the deceased. You can show it to organisations that hold these assets, such as banks or building societies.
A grant of probate is not always needed. Probate is not usually needed to release assets held jointly with another person, for example where:
- a home is held in joint names and is passing by survivorship to the other joint owner
- a joint bank or building society account is held, in which case the production of a death certificate may be enough for the monies to be transferred to the joint holder.
Sometimes, certain institutions, banks or building societies for example, may release money without a grant being produced if the amount held by the deceased was small. You'll need to check this with them.
Staff at probate registries will offer procedural guidance on how to obtain a grant but cannot provide legal advice.
If there is no will
If someone dies without making a will, they are said to have died ‘intestate’. If this happens the law sets out who should deal with the deceased’s affairs and who should inherit their estate. Assets held in joint names usually pass automatically to the other joint owner.
Dealing with an estate when there’s no will can be complicated and, in very complex cases, take a long time.