If someone dies in England and Wales without a valid will
The law and procedure relating to probate varies in different parts of the United Kingdom. The information in this section relates to grants of letters of administration in England and Wales.
What is intestacy?
If a person dies without a valid will, they are said to have died intestate. In this event, there are specific rules that decide who receives what. For detailed information on the intestacy rules, please click here.
What is a grant of letters of administration?
After a person’s death, all their assets, including their bank and building society accounts, are automatically frozen. As the deceased died intestate, you as the next of kin, will have to apply on oath to the Probate Registry for a grant of letters of administration. If you are in doubt who should make the application, you should review the Order of Priority set out in the intestacy rules.
The grant of letters of administration issued by the Probate Registry allows you, as ‘administrator,’ to deal with all the property and other assets of the person who has died.
As part of the application, you will need to provide to the Probate Registry a valuation of the deceased’s assets. The grant will not usually be issued until all or some of any Inheritance Tax that is due has been paid.
Only when the grant of letters of administration is made, are the assets unfrozen and you can then distribute them in accordance with the rules of intestacy.
Valuing the estate
Your first task is to value the estate. This will establish whether or not a grant of letters of administration is required.
To do this you will need to collect details of all the property and all the debts belonging to the deceased. The property will include any house, car, furniture, savings, life insurance policies, personal possessions, jewellery and anything capable of being valued and of being transferred to one person to another. Account will also need to be taken of certain assets that the deceased gave away during the seven years before they died.
The debts or liabilities may include a mortgage, outstanding bills, etc and will also include the funeral expenses.
For more detailed advice on the valuation process, please look at the separate section of Lasting Post called Valuing the Estate.
Unless the deceased person’s estate is straightforward and a grant of letters of administration is unlikely to be required, you should consider appointing a solicitor for the application to the Probate Registry and for help administering the estate. If you make a personal application, the process is as below.
Completing the documentation
If a grant of letters of administration is required, you will need to complete the appropriate probate application form. You will also need to complete the correct Inheritance Tax form. To access all probate application forms and Inheritance Tax forms, please click here.
If the estate is small and qualifies as an ‘excepted estate’ it may not be necessary to submit a full Inheritance Tax form. Instead, a brief HM Revenue & Customs form called a Return of Estate Information Form is all that is required. Otherwise, you will need to complete the more detailed Inland Revenue Account.
You will need to send the Inheritance Tax form to HM Revenue & Customs. If you have completed the Return of Estate Information Form, you should send this with the probate application form to the Probate Registry instead.
If you are in any doubt as to whether you should be filing a Return of Estate Information Form or a Inland Revenue Account, you should contact the Probate and Inheritance Tax helpline on 0845 30 20 900. Alternatively, you should visit the HM Revenue & Customs web-site by clicking here.
Paying any Inheritance Tax liability
You will need to pay any Inheritance Tax liability that is due on the estate. This will need to be done before you receive the grant of letters of administration.
For further information on paying the Inheritance Tax liability, please see the separate section of Lasting Post called Financial Considerations.
Lodging the documentation
You must send the application form to either the Principal Registry (in London) or one of the Probate Registries. With the application form, you will need to send the following documents:
1. A certified copy of the death certificate;
2. The probate fee of £105 (there is no fee if the net estate is under £5,000); and
3. The Return of Estate Information Form (if appropriate).
You should also pay for some additional copies of the grant which will cost £1 each.
To find out where your nearest Probate Registry is located, please click here.
Swearing an oath
The Probate Registry will send the oath to be sworn to the first administrator named in the probate application form. Details of how to arrange an appointment at a Probate Registry or office will also be included.
You can decide whether to attend a Probate Registry office to swear the oath or arrange to swear it in front of a commissioner for oaths (usually a local solicitor). If a commissioner is used for the oath they must be completely independent and not involved in anyway with your application.
You must take the oath and the documents referred to in it to your appointment at the probate office or with the commissioner (who will charge £5 per oath and £2 for each exhibit).
In the oath, you will give the value of the gross and net estate and swear that you will ensure that the estate will be distributed in accordance to the law and the terms of the will. All the administrators must attend the meeting and swear the oath.
If the oath is sworn in front of a commissioner, then afterwards you must send all the documents back to the same Probate Registry.
Receiving the grant of letters of administration
Once the Probate Registry has completed its work and is satisfied that the application is in order, you will receive the grant of letters of application by post.
Paying any liabilities
Your next job will be to pay any liabilities owing by the estate. Only when this process is completed, can you distribute the net balance to the beneficiaries entitled under the rules of intestacy.
As part of this process you should open a separate administrators’ bank account. This avoids all confusion with the administrators’ personal finances. All the money (including the sale proceeds of any asset) can be collected into this one account. You may have been able to open the administrators’ bank account before the application for letters of administration, but an increasing number of banks want to see the grant of representation before they do so.
You will need obtain final agreement from HM Revenue & Customs that all tax liabilities have been settled. These liabilities may include income tax from before the person died and from the administration period. Also, there may be additional Capital Gains Tax to be paid, if for example a property has been sold in the administration period which has gone up in value since the date of death.
Drawing up Estate Accounts
You will need to draw up an accurate record, in the form of Estate Accounts, of all the financial transactions that take place during the administration and winding up of the estate. Any beneficiary or the court can ask for these accounts which you must be able to provide. A Statement of Administration should then be sent to the beneficiaries entitled under the rules of intestacy who should give approval before the estate is distributed.
If the estate or its administration is particularly complex it may take some time to sort out. In such a case you may be able to make interim distributions to beneficiaries before the final winding up of the estate.
Distributing the estate
Your final job as administrator will be to distribute the estate to those entitled under the rules of intestacy. Receipts should be obtained from the beneficiaries. The executors will need to ensure that any distributions to persons under 18 are held for them in trust. When all cheques have cleared, close the administrators’ bank account.
The information which we provide through Lasting Post is in outline for information or educational purposes only. The information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a solicitor, accountant or other professional adviser. We cannot guarantee that information provided by Lasting Post will meet your individual needs, as this will very much depend on your individual circumstances. You should therefore use the information only as a starting point for your enquiries.