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What is probate?

If you are appointed as the executor of somebody's will, you will have the responsibility of dealing with their estate when they die. This typically involves collecting the assets and all monies due to the estate, paying funeral expenses and other liabilities such as inheritance tax, distributing any legacies, completing the estate administration and distributing the rest of the estate (known as the 'residuary estate') to the beneficiaries of the will.


Usually, the executors will require a document known as a 'grant of probate' before being able to deal with the assets of an estate. A grant of probate is a court order issued by the probate registry once the relevant inheritance tax account has been filed, any inheritance tax has been paid to HMRC and an oath has been sworn by the executors. This process of proving the will is called probate, although the term 'probate' is often used in a general sense to describe the process of administering a deceased person's estate.


If the deceased did not leave a will (known as dying intestate) or if the deceased did make a will but did not name any executors or the executors named are unable or unwilling to act (for example if they are also deceased or have lost mental capacity), dealing with the estate is less straightforward but the procedure is more or less the same. A 'grant of letters of administration', or in the latter case a 'grant of letters of administration with will annexed', will generally be required to deal with the deceased's assets. The people named in the grant, who will have the responsibility of administering the estate, are called administrators. The estate will need to be distributed by the administrators in accordance with the will if there is one, otherwise the intestacy rules will need to be followed.


The terminology can seem quite confusing. In short, a 'personal representative' is the same as an executor or administrator and a 'grant of representation' is an all-inclusive term for grant of probate, grant of letters of administration and grant of letters of administration with will annexed.

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