Probate – what is it, and why do I need it?




People might not have heard of the word ‘probate’ until they’ve encountered a death. Here’s what it means:

  •  Probate is where someone has died and left a will. It’s a court document that confirms a person’s last will and testament and allows the executors of the will to deal with assets left behind
  • Grant of letters of administration is where someone has died and not left a will. This grant allows the person’s closest relative(s) to deal with their assets
  • Grant of representation covers both probate and letters of administration

My mum made a will so why do we need probate? 
Making a will is important as it allows you to lay out your wishes and explain who you want to give your assets to. It can also give your family peace of mind. 

If for example, your mum owned her house and left it to her children, who wanted to sell it on her death, any buyer of the house would want to know that will is the final version and that the mum had not changed it. 

Probate is sufficient proof (a court document) that this is the last will, and a buyer of the house will accept that.
When my dad died, we didn’t need probate
Often when the first husband or wife dies, probate isn’t needed. 

This is because they may hold their assets in joint names. If this is the case, the assets pass to the other automatically, without the need for probate.
My mum only had a bank account, so why is probate needed?
There is no hard and fast rule as to when probate is needed. 

For example, if a bank account has £20,000 in it, some banks will close the account without probate, others may require it. 

Where a bank asks for probate and the account is the only asset, it’s worth checking with them if it’s necessary, as it can sometimes be a standard request.
Can I avoid probate by giving assets away?
Probate is needed where on the event of death, your assets are in your sole name. If you put your assets into the names of yourself and someone else (say a child) or into a trust then probate may not be needed. 

However, great care is required here, and legal advice should be taken as:

  • you are giving up control of the assets
  • there may be a clash with your will

I need to pay for my mum’s funeral, but her bank account is frozen
Bank accounts are frozen when the bank is shown a copy of the death certificate. 

If you give the funeral bill to the bank and there is enough money in the account to cover the costs, the bank will pay the undertaker directly.
My dad died years ago, and I need to know if there was probate 
The website is very useful.
We need probate but have to pay inheritance tax first 
Bank accounts are frozen until probate is issued, but as with the funeral account, banks will release funds from an account directly to the Inland Revenue. You'll need to have an Inheritance Tax number from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC ) at least 3 weeks before you make a payment. 
We have probate but a later will has turned up
This is where seeking specialist legal advice from a professional, such as an SFE lawyer is imperative. 

If it’s a simple mistake, then you need to apply to the probate court to have the grant of probate “revoked” (cancelled) and a new grant with the later will issued. If there’s an argument/dispute about which will is the correct one, then you should seek legal advice.


Robert Pannifer

Head of the Private Client Department at Blackhams Solicitors in Birmingham and Solihull.

Robert and his team provide advice on Wills, Estate Administration, Lasting Powers of Attorney, Charities and Court of Protection applications.

Robert has been a Solicitor for over 20 years and a member of Solicitors for the Elderly for many years.
Blackhams have been providing legal advice to the Birmingham and wider community since 1888.