If someone dies in Northern Ireland leaving a 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 probate in Northern Ireland.

What is a grant of probate?

After a person’s death, all their assets, including their bank and building society accounts, are automatically frozen. This is the case whether or not they left a will.

If a person left a will, the people appointed as executors in the will must apply to the Probate Registry for a grant of probate. This grant gives them the authority to deal with or “administer” all the property and other assets belonging to the person who has died.

As part of the application, the executors will need to provide to the Probate Registry a valuation of the deceased’s assets. Probate will not usually be granted until all or some of any Inheritance Tax that is due has been paid.

Only when the grant of probate is made, are the assets unfrozen and the executors can then distribute them in accordance with the deceased’s wishes as set out in their will.

Do you need a grant of probate?

The first step is to make sure that you need a grant of probate. A grant will not usually be required if the deceased person’s estate is either worth less than £10,000 and doesn’t include property, land or shares, or alternatively, is passing to their surviving spouse or civil partner because all the assets are held in joint names.

Valuation process

If you think that you need a grant then your first task will be to value the estate.

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 probate 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 probate is required, your next step is to complete the appropriate Inheritance Tax form. To access Inheritance Tax forms, please click here.

If the estate is small and qualifies as an ‘excepted estate’ you must complete a Return of Estate Information Form. You need to bring this form, duly completed, when you attend your interview with the Probate Officer.

If the estate is larger and not an excepted estate, you must complete an Inheritance Tax Account with schedules and a Probate Summary. These documents, duly complete,d will need to be sent to HM Revenue & Customs. When processed, they will send you the Probate Summary duly stamped.

If you are in doubt whether you should be filing a Return of Estate Information Form or an 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. You will not receive the grant of probate until this is done.

Booking the interview with Probate Officer

The next step is to book the interview with the Probate Officer. You must do this in writing using the appointment request form. For a copy, please click here.

You will need to send the booking form and copies of all requisite documents to the appropriate Probate Registry. If the deceased had a fixed home in counties of Fermanagh, Londonderry or Tyrone, the application for the grant can be made at either the following addresses:

Probate Office, Royal Courts of Justice, Chichester Street, Belfast, BT1 3JF

The District Probate Registry, The Courthouse, Bishop Street, Londonderry, BT48 6PY

If the deceased lived outside these three counties, the application must be made at the Probate Office, Belfast.

The interview cannot take place until 7 days after the date of death when the deceased person left a will. If there is no will, the time period is 28 days.

Documents required for the interview

You need to take the following original documents with you to the interview:

1. Proof of your identity; this should be a photo identity if possible;

2. A certified copy of the death certificate;

3. The original will;

4. The deceased person’s marriage certificate (or decree absolute if divorced)

5. The Return of Estate Information form duly completed (if an excepted estate), otherwise, the Probate Summary duly stamped by HM Revenue & Customs; and

6. Any other documents requested by the Probate Officer.

Procedure for the interview

At the interview, which should last no more than 30 minutes, the Probate Officer will review the documents that you bring and will complete the probate forms for you to check. You will then be asked to swear an oath confirming that all the details that you have given are ‘true and correct’ before being asked to sign the probate forms.

At the end of the interview you will need to pay the probate fees.

Receiving the grant of probate

The Probate Registry will aim to issue the grant of probate within one week and will send it to you.

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.

As part of this process you should open a separate executors’ bank account. This avoids all confusion with the executors’ 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 executors’ bank account before the application for probate, 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 be sent to the beneficiaries 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 executor will be to distribute the estate to those entitled under the terms of the will. 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 executors’ bank account.

Please note

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.