Before applying for probate, you'll need to gather details about your loved one's estate. Here, we'll cover what you need, why, and how you can find it – and we’ve also got a free probate checklist to help you keep track of everything.
Applying for probate is the first step in dealing with someone’s estate. But in order to approve your grant, the government needs to see a clear picture of the estate’s value. This includes things like property, debts, bank accounts, pensions and other financial assets.
To make the probate application process as smooth as possible, it’s a good idea to gather this information in advance. In this guide, we’ll look at everything from finding someone’s will to getting their property valued for probate.
How to get a copy of a will before probate
When someone writes a will, it's recommended that they tell their executors where the will is kept – this helps to make the process smoother when dealing with their estate. However, if you are the executor and don't know where the will is stored, it's important to track it down as quickly as possible.
Most people keep their will with other important financial documents. If your loved one has a safe or an office with a filing cabinet, this is probably the best place to start. Note that if the will was written with a solicitor or bank, the document you find may only be a copy. You may need to speak to the person or organisation who wrote the will to obtain the original will.
If you can’t find the will anywhere but think one was made with a particular organisation, you could reach out to them to check. Alternatively, you can see if the will was deposited with the Principal Registry of the Family Division or with Certainty – a National Will Register who can carry out a will search for a fee.
If you still can't find the will, you may need to apply for a grant of letters of administration. In this scenario, the estate would instead be divided up following the rules of intestacy – a set of laws that define what happens to someone's estate when there is no will. For these cases, the person who stands to inherit the most usually handles the application.
How to find someone's financial records
In order to prepare your probate application and tax forms, you'll need to track down some key details about the estate. This includes things like debts, tax owed, gifts made in the last 7 years, shareholdings, investments, life insurance, pensions, and the balance in any bank accounts.
Here, we'll cover some of the key things you need to do before you can apply for probate:
1. Use the government's Tell Us Once service
After registering the death, you'll have 28 days to use the government's Tell Us Once service. This allows you to report the death to multiple government organisations at once, including:
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) – to deal with personal tax (you'll need to contact HMRC separately for business taxes, like VAT)
Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – to cancel benefits and entitlements, for example Universal Credit or State Pension
Passport Office – to cancel a British passport
Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) – to cancel a licence and remove the person as the keeper of up to 5 vehicles (contact DVLA separately if you keep or sell a vehicle)
Local Council – to cancel Housing Benefit, Council Tax Reduction (sometimes called Council Tax Support), a Blue Badge, inform council housing services and remove the person from the electoral register
Veterans UK – to cancel Armed Forces Compensation Scheme payments
You can find out more about the government's Tell Us Once service here.
2. Contact banks and other financial organisations
If your loved one left a will, they may have included an inventory of their assets. However, this isn't always the case, so you may need to search the home to track down any assets or liabilities they held.
Office rooms, safes and filing cabinets are always good places to start, and sideboards, bedside drawers and kitchen drawers are also worth checking. If you're really struggling to find the information you need, you could search their wallet to find out who they bank with. You may even be able to check their emails if you have access to their phone or computer. It’s also worth going through their bank statements, which may shed some light on other organisations that may need to be contacted.
After building up a list of their assets and debts (e.g. Current account with Barclays, Pension with Scottish Widows, etc), you'll need to contact each organisation for a final statement. This is to work out the value of each asset and whether any debts are owed. In most cases, you'll also be asked to send a copy of the death certificate, most assets will then be frozen until you have a grant of probate or grant of letters of administration.
3. How to value property for probate
It’s the executor’s responsibility to protect the assets in the estate. So the first thing to do is make sure that house insurance is in place and that the insurance provider is aware of your loved one’s death. Once you’re happy with the extent of the house insurance cover, you should make an effort to secure the house (or houses) to prevent theft of break-ins. Make sure all the windows are closed and ensure that any doors, garages, sheds or outhouses are locked. And if there are any valuables such as jewellery or antiques, these can be collected and held for safekeeping until they’re ready to be distributed to beneficiaries.
The next thing to do is get a valuation for the property. By searching for the address on Zoopla and looking at the price of similar houses in the area, you may be able to get a good idea of how much the house is worth. However, you may be better off getting a professional valuation if inheritance tax is likely to be an issue.
If you choose not to use an estate agent or a RICS qualified surveyor, HMRC may challenge your property valuation. This usually happens in cases where the property value keeps the estate just below the inheritance tax threshold – which can be seen as suspicious or convenient in the eyes of HMRC. The current threshold for inheritance tax is £325,000, however, this can increase to £650,000 or even as high as £1 million depending on the circumstances.
To find out more, read our free inheritance tax guide.
How to get a death certificate in the UK
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