Probate Checklist

Have you been appointed as an Executor on a will?  If so here is a simple probate checklist to help you get started. When a will is written, normally either close friends or relatives are appointed as executors in the event of the death of the named person.   Being named as the executor in a person’s will may seem daunting but, if you’re not dealing with a comprehensive estate, you may be able to save money by settling the process yourself.

Simple Probate Checklist Overview

Handling probate as an executor will involve numerous tasks and undertaking the administration of the estate (where assets are gathered in and then distributed to the beneficiaries).  Whether you consider DIY probate or use a probate solicitor will depend on the complexity of the deceased estate and if you feel confident taking responsibility for this whole process.  If you have a ‘Power of Attorney’ (to manage the deceased estate when the person was alive), it is probable that you are already a named executor.  Exercising a POA, again, would require it to be certified by a solicitor to give you authorisation to maintain that person’s interests and well being.

Tips: It is wise to keep a record of all activities – for example, expenditure together with dates of transactions.  Buy a sturdy folder and dedicated notebook to keep records.  You can also get extra official copies of the death certificate at £4 each.

Probate Checklist at a quick glance:

  • a) Register the death – you will need the relevant documents of the deceased, find your local office here: https://www.gov.uk/register-offices
  • b) Find out if there is a will – this will inform you of the deceased’s wishes for the estate, for example, funeral plans and executors. If the deceased did not make a will, please refer to number 3 on the main checklist.
  • c) Apply for a grant of probate and sort inheritance tax – complete a probate application form and/or an inheritance tax form and send your application to your nearest local probate registry.
  • d) Inform all organisations and close accounts – you’ll need to advise all of the necessary institutions and companies related to the deceased of their death.
  • e) Pay off any debts – only the deceased estate is liable for any outstanding money owed to creditors. Money owed in joint names will be the sole survivor’s responsibility to pay.
  • f) Check for any life insurance – check to see if there are any valid policies or any payment protection insurances.
  • g) Value the estate – once all of the taxes and debts are paid, you’ll need to calculate the total value of the remaining estate.
  • h) Share the remaining estate – whatever is left over is distributed to the named beneficiaries.
  • i) Balance the books – make sure all of the numbers balance out and then archive all of the documents for a minimum of one year, this is required by law.

Here is your probate checklist for moving forward:

  1. Collect the death certificate from the doctor dealing with the death. Register the death using the necessary identity paperwork. https://www.gov.uk/register-offices

Tips: The death should be officially registered within five days. Secondly, make sure any of the deceased owner’s property is fully insured and totally secure against burglary or vandalism.

2. Find out if there is a will and where it is stored. When you have located it check to see        who has been named as executor before beginning the probate process. In most cases        all executors will know that they have been appointed. In cases where someone does          not feel capable of doing this they can assign a solicitor to act on their behalf or decline      the role by signing a Renunciation.

3. If the deceased did not make a will, they are said to have died ‘intestate’. When this           happens the personal representatives will need to apply for what’s known as ‘Letters of       Administration.’ This is a slightly different process with ‘administrators’ being appointed       instead of ‘executors’. If the deceased did make a will the named executors will apply for     a ‘Grant of Probate.’

4. Organise the funeral and arrange the wake. Funerals are generally held soon after              someone dies, even before you’ve been able to apply for a grant of probate. In some          cases, the deceased’s solicitor will release funeral expenses before you obtain the grant.      Some funeral directors will wait for payment until probate has been granted. Otherwise      you or another person may have to pay for the funeral up front and then recover the          money from the estate later. You should also check the will for any requests on how the      deceased wished their funeral to be conducted.    

Tip: any expenses you incur (retain all receipts) will get refunded by the estate, provided it is directly associated with administering the estate.

5.  Announce the death (for example in a local paper) so that any acquaintances that may       not have been aware of the death and wish to attend the funeral to pay their last               respects can do so.

6. Obtain a ‘Grant of probate.’ This will enable you to obtain permission to execute the will      as per the deceased’s wishes. To do this you will need to have already registered the          death and assessed the size of the estate. Once you have worked out the size of the          estate and determined whether or not inheritance tax will be due on it, the next stage is      to complete a probate application form and inheritance tax forms.

Remember to check that you have accurately assessed the late person’s estate,                  including all of their savings and investments.  Has each bank given details of all                accounts, including ISA’s and shares?  Close any accounts including credit cards. Did the      deceased have any life insurance policies? Are there any ‘Trusts’ involved? ‘Trusts’ would      impact on death duty as to how much is owed to IHT.  Are there items, such as                  property, that you need to get professionally valued? Overseas property would require a      local solicitor and a notary in that country.  Usually a second separate will is made for          foreign properties as in Spain for example, and death tax on property sold could be due      in that country.

All probate applicants will need to complete and return a PA1P form, and then you will        need to use a separate form depending on whether or not inheritance tax is due. This is      the IHT400 tax return form for estates that are liable for inheritance tax (above                  £325,000), or the IHT205 form for estates that are not liable.

Tip: most of these forms can be filled out online (PA1P) here and use the search cell to find the other IHT forms: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/form-pa1p-apply-for-probate-the-deceased-had-a-will

7. Once your paperwork has been submitted, you will be required to attend a formal              interview and swear an affidavit stating that all of the information that you have                provided is true. This is carried out in front of an appointed Notary, or at a solicitor’s          office.

8. Pay any inheritance tax. Provided that everything is in order and that HMRC accepts            your valuation, any IHT due on the estate must now be paid. This is a requirement of          getting the grant of probate. If there are sufficient funds in any of the deceased’s bank        accounts to cover the amount due, you should be able to make a direct payment to            HMRC. Most UK banks permit this on receipt of an IHT 423 form. Where the estate              assets are tied up in shares or property, HMRC will accept the owed IHT in stage                payments and only requires 10% of the total due in advance. Check there is enough in        the deceased’s main account to pay for the IHT due. Pay off any associated debts – and      note that money owed in joint names will be the sole survivor’s responsibility to settle.

If there isn’t enough money, you’ll have to pay out of your own pocket and recoup the        money from the estate after probate – or take a loan from a bank.

9. The next steps of administering the estate involve gathering in all the assets you have        identified, and distributing them as indicated in the will. Once probate has been                  granted, most institutions will release funds without delay. Any money received from          another account should be paid into the late person’s main account, so there is a paper      trail at all times. Alternatively, you may have to set up an executor’s account if there is        no account available.

Tip: to speed up the process, when you apply for Grant of Probate it is worthwhile to pay for extra certified copies (and copies of the death certificate), as there will be more than one official institute requiring verification.

10. Once you have received grant of probate, you should also consider advertising for any        unknown creditors to step forward. If you don’t do this, then you could be held                  personally liable for any unidentified outstanding debts. Place a notice in the local free        paper or most common is in the national ‘Gazette’ (the official public record for notices        publication). They usually charge a nominal fee: you can often choose to create a PO          box, so your personal address isn’t made public.

11. Once you have received all of the funds due, for example the sale of a house, you can        make appropriate payments to each of the beneficiaries and creditors. When                      distributing assets, remember to verify; have you identified all beneficiaries and                  creditors? Have you made a good faith effort to contact all persons concerned with the        estate? Have you paid all the estate taxes and debts due?

12. The last task is to prepare a set of final accounts. These estate accounts should include        all money received and paid out and you need to keep these with supporting                      paperwork for at least one year (the legal limitation period for any third party claim            against the estate).

You should arrange to keep the main records of how these valuations were worked out        relating to the estate.  HMRC can ask to see records up to 20 years after Inheritance        Tax (IHT) is paid.

Download Official Probate Forms

Simple Probate Checklist

Citizens’ Advice

Probate Explained

What is Inheritance tax?

After a Death – The People You Need to Tell At Once

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