Probate, letters of administration & intestacy: what you need to know

Losing a loved one is hard enough without all the admin you’re expected to take care of: contacting the undertakers, arranging a funeral, getting a death certificate, speaking to a solicitor, filing probate and tax forms, getting a grant of probate or letters of administration…the list goes on.

To help you understand the probate process and what's involved, we've set out a guide to what probate is and how it works.

What's the process?

The probate process is quite complicated, and depends on whether the deceased made a Will and what they owned at the date of their death (known as their ‘estate’).

If the deceased made a Will

If the deceased made a Will and appointed executors (persons who administer the estate) then the executors will need to apply for a Grant of Probate. Prior to doing so, the executors will need to file inheritance tax forms. Which form they file (generally it will be form IHT205 or IHT400) depends on certain factors, most importantly the size of the estate and whether there is any inheritance tax to pay.

Once the inheritance tax return is filed the executors will need to submit form PA1, swear an oath and apply for the grant of probate. The executors will then need to gather in the assets and distribute them in accordance with the terms of the Will.

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If the deceased died without a Will (intestate)

If the deceased did not make a Will then interested parties will be able to apply for letters of administration. Letters of administration can be applied for by the closest surviving member of the deceased in a certain order: spouse, adult children, adult grandchildren, parents, siblings, etc. The person appointed is known as the administrator.

Once again, inheritance tax returns will need to be filed and form PA1 will need to be submitted. As above, once letters of administration are granted, the administrators will need to gather in the assets and distribute them in accordance with the intestacy rules.

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Do you always need to get probate?

If the estate is very small and simple, or all the assets were jointly owned (e.g. joint bank accounts and property owned as joint tenants), it may not be necessary to apply for probate or letters of administration at all.

Is a lawyer always necessary?

Whilst it is possible to apply for a grant of probate or letters of administration without legal representation, if the estate is complicated in any way it is a good idea to get a specialist probate lawyer involved. This is because the process can be long and difficult to navigate for those who have never dealt with it before.

Whether you’re an executor, family member or beneficiary of a Will, it’s often a good idea to at least take some preliminary advice from a probate solicitor to ensure you know where you stand and what you need to do.


Our Lawyers

Tom Woodward

Rachell has built a reputation for her flexible modern working practices, ensuring she is accessible to suit the needs of her clients. She has a thorough approach and reassuring manner and is committed to ensuring the best outcome for her clients.

Tom Woodward

Charlie is a Partner and head of his firm's private client team in Exeter. He primarily focuses on wills, probate, estate planning and lasting powers of attorney. He is recommended in Legal 500.

Tom Woodward

Minesh's specialisms include: Wills, Lasting Powers of Attorney, Enduring Powers of Attorney, issues affecting the elderly, inheritance tax mitigation and probate. Minesh takes a calm and pragmatic approach to his practice, ensuring that his clients are assured and confident throughout the process.

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