Understanding probate

Don’t be left in the dark about being an executor. Five things to know now about administering a loved-one’s estate.

Autumn leaves to signify understanding probate

Recent months have seen been a number of changes to the process by which a grant of probate or letters of administration are obtained.  This has been in an effort to make the process of executing someone’s will more straightforward and accessible – yet most of us go into probate as novices, with a lot to learn! Here are five things to know now about administering a loved-one’s estate:

  1. Take good advice

The role of an executor is extensive and time consuming, and you are also personally liable if the estate is not administered properly.  A solicitor’s advice is key to fully understanding the will and estate so that the deceased’s wishes can be followed and that assets are not wrongly distributed. If there are trusts in the will then it is important to obtain advice to ensure that the trust is properly administered, and the relevant tax implications and requirements considered.

  1. Things are going to get complex

If the estate is of a significant value, then the administration is almost certainly going to be complex.  Executors will need to deal with inheritance tax liability, possible income tax during the administration and, if assets are disposed of, capital gains tax implications. A solicitor’s advice here will undoubtedly help save you money as well as time. Completing an administration can take anything from six months to two years; even after submitting an application, it can take four to six weeks to receive a grant of probate.

  1. Start with the basics

Register the death at the local registrar’s office and order a good number (we suggest 8-10) certified copies of the death certificate. The death certificate is used to obtain financial information from the deceased’s banks, insurance companies, share companies and pension providers and so it is well-worth having sufficient copies.  Bring at least one of them with you to your first meeting with your solicitor.

The registrar should also offer to complete the government’s Tell Us Once service or provide you with a unique reference number to access it online or by phone. This is a free service, allowing you to notify all government departments of the death with one call or email. To apply, you will need the deceased’s date of birth, national insurance number, driving licence number and passport number.

  1. Locate key documents

Start with the deceased’s will. Having this, or confirming that one does not exist, determines whether there needs to be an application for a grant of probate or for letters of administration (if no will was left). If a grant of probate is required, your solicitor will need the original will in order to submit it to the probate registry.

Better still, having good communication with the person in their lifetime will help you to know where to find relevant documents, financial information and key wishes, especially as filing becomes more digitalised. Collate as much as you can to determine the assets and liabilities of the person who has died – bank statements, pension statements, life insurance policies. It is helpful to remember that a will should always be kept in a place easy to locate – locked away in a safe is no good! We recommend registering your will with

  1. Record everything!

It goes without saying that the larger the estate the more work is involved obtaining probate, especially if financial gifts have been made during the person’s lifetime. Everything you do or find should be recorded, not only for your own benefit, but to show that as an executor you have acted properly and honestly.

This article was written by Katherine Carroll

Please note the contents contained in this article are for general guidance only and reflection the position at time of posting. Legal advice should be sought before taking action in relation to specific matters.

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