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What is probate?
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Home / Further Information / Probate / What is probate?

When a person dies their “executors” (if the deceased left a will) or “administrators” (where there is no will) have the task of dealing with the deceased’s estate. The process of dealing with the estate is referred to as “probate” or “administration”, where there is no will.

Executors and administrators normally have to apply for a “grant of probate” (if the deceased left a will) or “letters of administration” (where there is no will) before they can deal with the deceased’s estate.

A grant of probate or letters of administration gives the executors or administrators the legal authority to deal with the deceased’s estate and allow them to sell the deceased’s property, for example.

Is a grant of probate or letters of administration always required?

In most cases a grant of probate or letters of administration will be required. However, a grant of probate may not be needed if property is jointly owned by the deceased and another person as “joint tenants” as the deceased’s share in the property automatically passes to the surviving joint tenant upon his or her death.

In the case of jointly held bank and building society accounts, the mere production of the death certificate may be sufficient in order for the monies in the account to be transferred to the surviving account holder.

Some institutions may be prepared to release monies without a grant of probate or letters of administration if the sum of money is small. Some banks and insurance companies will release up to £15,000 without seeing a grant of probate or letters of administration. Normally banks will release a sum of money to cover the cost of the deceased’s funeral upon the production of a death certificate.

As to whether an institution is prepared to release monies without sight of a grant of probate or letters of administration is a matter for their discretion.

A grant of probate or letters of administration will, however, be required in the following circumstances:

If the deceased owns assets, excluding any property held by him or her as joint tenants, worth over £5,000;

To transfer the ownership of or sell any stocks or shares held by the deceased;

If the deceased holds in his or her sole name more than £15,000 in any one bank account or insurance policy.

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Single Will or Mirror Wills?

If you are a couple and wish to leave all your assets to each other then you could save money by making  Mirror Wills. You can also use Mirror Wills if you whish to leave your estate to the same beneficiaries. 
If you wish to leave different legacies, appoint different executors or you would like to specify individual funeral wishes then you will need to make two Single Wills.
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