What is probate?

Probate is actually short for a “Grant of Probate” which is the name given to the legal document that gives the executor of a will the authority to distribute the estate of the person who’s passed away in accordance with the instructions in their will.

Probate is usually needed for an estate that includes property or assets owned solely by the deceased person.

What are the key stages?

Before you apply for the grant

  • Identify and value the assets (and liabilities) that the person owned when they died

  • Establish the amount and nature of any past gifts that they may have made

  • Calculate any taxes that are due and, in the case of inheritance tax, arrange to pay this before applying for probate

  • Prepare a statement of assets and liabilities of the estate

  • Determine the personal tax position of the person who has passed away

  • Prepare the necessary forms and send the forms to HMRC

Apply for the grant

  • Complete the PA1 or online application

  • Sign a statement of truth that all the information provided is correct to the best of your knowledge, that you are entitled to take out the grant and that you will administer the estate in accordance with the law

  • Apply to the Probate Office for probate or a grant of representation (if the person died without leaving a will)

Administer and distribute the estate

  • Collect or realise the assets

  • Pay any debts

  • Pay any pecuniary liabilities

  • Place a notice in the London Gazette and local paper to advise that the estate is being administered, if after two months no further claims on the estate have been notified to the executors they are protected from personal liability if someone comes forward at a later stage (s27 Trustee Act Notice)

  • Distribute the estate according to the will or the rules of intestacy

  • Calculate any tax liability payable by the estate

  • Prepare and submit any relevant tax forms

  • Prepare estate accounts which show all the transactions coming into and going out of the deceased’s estate for approval by the executors and residuary beneficiaries


Depending on the complexity of the estate, its administration can take anywhere from several months to a number of years. Probate requires some laborious and highly detailed administration work.

If the estate is straightforward anyone can act as an administrator, but executors and administrators are legally responsible for any errors made along the way. We would suggest you would need a probate specialist if the estate:

• Is over the IHT threshold

• Contains complicated arrangements

• Does not have a valid will

• Includes assets outside England and Wales

No, we’re a licensed firm, so we can handle the whole process in all non-contentious probate cases without the need for a solicitor. Solicitors only need to be involved in contentious cases (i.e. if there is a dispute relating to the administration of the estate).

You don't need to, but it’s good practice to identify potential tax planning opportunities. Generally speaking, you should review your will every five years or so.

Through legal and proactive planning prior to death, we can ensure maximum reliefs are being claimed to help mitigate or even eliminate IHT liabilities. We could do this in a variety of ways, including writing a will, setting up a trust, or restructuring your estate. The earlier you plan the better.

Diversity Report

Under our probate licence, we are required to publish a diversity statement and statistics for our workforce.

Regulatory information

In the unlikely event that we cannot meet our liabilities to you, you may be able to seek a grant from the ICAEW’s Probate Compensation Scheme. Generally, applications for a grant must be made to ICAEW within 12 months of the time you became aware, or reasonably ought to have become aware, of the loss. Further information about the scheme and the circumstances in which grants may be made is available on ICAEW’s website: icaew.com/probate.

Probate regulations can be accessed at icaew.com/regulations.

Making sure you’re happy with our Probate service.

At Haines Watts we value our client relationships, and we’ll strive to ensure the whole process, from start to finish, is as smooth as possible. That said, we’re only human, and sometimes we might get it wrong… if this is the case, we’d like to hear from you, to put things right straight away..

If you’d like to discuss with us how our service could be improved, or if you’re in any way dissatisfied with the service you’re receiving, we hope you’ll bring your concern, however small, to our attention.

We promise to investigate any complaint carefully and promptly, take the appropriate action to resolve the matter and to fully discuss it with you.

Firstly, we recommend that you discuss any problems with the person generally responsible for handling your affairs. If you’d prefer, please contact Jonathan Scott or Jim Demetriou, who’ll review matters and report back to you.

We’ll consider any complaint you make about our probate or estate administration work very carefully as soon as we receive it and we’ll do all we can to resolve it. We’ll acknowledge your letter within five business days of its receipt and do our best to deal with it within eight weeks.

If, in exceptional circumstances, we don’t answer your complaint to your satisfaction, you have the right to take the matter up with our governing body, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and the Legal Ombudsman. https://www.icaew.com/regulation/complaints-process

Complaints to the Legal Ombudsman should be made within six years of the act or omission or within three years of you becoming aware of the issue, and in either case within six months of our written response to your complaint to us. The contact details for the Legal Ombudsman are:

Letter: The Legal Ombudsman, PO Box 6806, Wolverhampton WV1 9WJ Email: enquiries@legalombudsman.org.uk

Telephone: 0300 555 0333.

If we can’t resolve your complaint you might be able to refer it to an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) provider to try and reach a resolution. We will provide details of a ADR provider if we cannot resolve your complaint using our internal procedures. This is in addition to your ability to complain to ICAEW.

We are here for you.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales is a professional membership organisation that promotes, develops and supports chartered accountants and students around the world

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