What happens when a person dies
When a person dies, probate is the process of administering their estate by organising their assets, money and possessions and then distributing them as per the terms of a will or in line with the rules of intestacy.
To be able to start probate, an executor (the person who takes legal responsibility for carrying out the instructions of a will) must apply for a Grant of Probate. A Grant will give an executor the legal authority to deal with the deceased’s property until all taxes are paid and inheritance has been passed on.
If a person died intestate (where there is no will), a Grant of Probate cannot be applied for, but instead the estate will be administered through a Grant of Administration.
A person who has been named as an executor can chose to ‘renounce’ the right to accept the role.
Not every estate will require probate. If there is no property and only a small amount of money, with a total value usually less than £5,000, probate is not normally needed. Each bank or financial institution will have different value limits on when they would require a grant of probate.
Probate will also not be required for property that is owned jointly as joint tenants, as this passes through the right of survivorship, meaning the surviving owner automatically has the property pass to them.
Probate will be required however when there is property that is owned jointly but as ‘tenants in common’ or there is a larger estate that needs distributing.
If you do not apply for probate, then the deceased’s estate cannot be dealt with. The estate cannot be assessed or distributed, leaving assets and accounts frozen and in a state of limbo.
If you do not apply for probate, as either an executor or administrator then generally the deceased’s estate cannot be accessed or transferred. As explained, probate may not be needed for smaller estates or for property owned as joint tenants, but it is always best to seek professional advice before distributing any estate.