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Do I Need Probate?

Nigel Merchant, Regional Probate Consultant, discusses one of the common misconceptions regarding the need for probate.

I’m always being asked the following question:

“Why do I need to go through Probate? My Dad left a will – so that means we don’t need Probate, doesn’t it?”

The simple answer is that most estates do need to go through Probate. It’s not a question of whether the deceased left a will, but whether or not the assets dealt with by the will are the sort of assets that require a Grant of Probate before they can be dealt with under the terms of the will.

The purpose of the will is to give effect to the deceased’s wishes as to what is to happen to his or her estate after death. The Grant of Probate is the document that allows ownership of the assets to be transferred from the deceased to the Executors so that they can give effect to the terms of the will.

So, did the deceased own assets in his or her name as at the date of death? If so, depending on the value and type of assets, a Grant of Probate will be required. A good example is a bank account: if the deceased held, say, £50,000 in a bank or building society account, the bank or building society will require sight of the Grant of Probate before it releases the money to the Executors to deal with under the terms of the will. If the deceased owned stocks and shares, the registrar will need to see the Grant of Probate before transferring the shares out of the deceased’s name into the names of the Executors or beneficiaries.

What about the house? Did the deceased own his or her home in his or her own name? If so, a Grant of Probate will be necessary before it can be sold or transferred to a beneficiary.

On the other hand, just because the deceased left a will, it doesn’t automatically follow that a Grant of Probate will be required. If the deceased left a few bank and / or building society accounts, each with a few thousand pounds, some personal possessions and nothing else, it’s unlikely that the banks and / or building societies will need sight of a Grant for modest amounts. Each has its own limit but, as a rule of thumb, most banks and building societies will let about £15,000 go to Executors without sight of a Grant. Similarly, a share registrar might not need to see a Grant of Probate if the deceased held just a few shares of a modest total value. If the deceased’s home was owned as joint tenants with a surviving spouse (or other party), it will pass to them by survivorship.

All of the above deals with situations where the deceased left a will – what happens where there is no will? Well, the basic rules are the same but the people who will administer the estate are known as Administrators (instead of Executors). They will apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration (instead of a Grant of Probate) and the distribution of the estate will take place according to the rules of intestacy.

Nigel Merchant is a Regional Probate Consultant at Kings Court Trust and can be reached on nigel.merchant@kctrust.co.uk.