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Do I Need a Letter of Administration or a Grant of Probate?

Dealing with the death of a loved one can be a traumatic time. Understanding the grant of representation process, and particularly whether you need letters of administration or a grant of probate, can help ease some of that stress. Our experts explain what is involved in the process here.

When someone dies in England and Wales, all of the personal assets that they owned form part of their estate. These assets include property, bank accounts, investments, and other personal belongings. 

If this estate exceeds the value of £5,000, the deceased’s personal representatives are required to obtain the legal authority to collect and manage the estate. This authority is known as a grant of representation. Once this has been issued, you are able to access the deceased’s bank accounts and other investments and start dealing with the estate.

Confusingly, one of two grants of representations can be issued to you:

  • Grant of probate
  • Letters of administration

Understanding which grant you need is important when dealing with your loved one’s estate.

Below, we detail exactly which grant applies to what circumstances, the difference between letters of administration and a grant of probate, and how to apply for both. If you have any other questions relating to probate, you can get in touch with our Wirral-based expert probate solicitors by completing the enquiry form on this page, or by calling 0151 666 9090.

What is the difference between a letter of administration and a grant of probate? 

The main difference between letters of administration and a grant of probate is related to whether the deceased had a valid will or not. A grant of probate is only issued to the named executors of the will, while letters of administration are issued to the person who is entitled to inherit under the rules of intestacy, if the deceased died without a will. In certain circumstances, where there is a valid will but no executor, a grant of letters of administration with will annexed will be issued.

Grant of Probate

When someone makes a will, they should appoint at least one executor. An executor has the power to control the deceased’s assets, including transferring funds, disposing of any assets, paying debts, and sharing any money or property between beneficiaries. 

Most financial institutions will not allow an executor to access assets if they have not obtained a grant of probate first. This is legal confirmation that the will is valid and has been officially registered by the Court.

Letters of Administration

If the deceased died without a valid will, letters of administration are usually issued to the person entitled under the rules of intestacy (or their guardians, if they are minors). Similar to a grant of probate, the letters of administration is a grant of representation issued by the court allowing the named individual to administer the estate. 

The main difference here is that no specific person will have been appointed to manage the estate, because there is no valid will. In addition to this, in this scenario, the court does not automatically assign an authority to manage the deceased person’s affairs. It is up to family members to apply to the Court for Letters of Administration.

The duties of the executor and the administrator are essentially the same, with the only difference being in how they are appointed.

What are the circumstances under which you might need either document?

In most scenarios, you will need either a letter of administration or grant of probate to deal with an estate, especially if it includes property. There are occasions where you may not need either, however. 

The most common of these scenarios is where the deceased’s estate is valued at £5,000 or less, or where the person who died held their assets jointly with another person. In these cases, you will not need a grant of representation to get access. Having said this, banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions all set their own limits for probate. These limits can vary from £5,000 to £50,000. Generally speaking, if the value is less than £5,000, you should be fine without a grant of probate or letters of administration. 

You will also not need probate or letters of administration if the deceased was insolvent and had more debt, tax, and other expenses than assets.

Calculating the value of the estate can be complicated. Property owned only by the deceased or with another individual as “tenants in common” will form part of their estate, and therefore the value of that property should be included. If they owned a property with another person as a “joint tenant”, however, this will not form part of their estate, and the property will pass directly to the other owner.

In addition to this, if an asset is held in a trust, it shouldn’t require probate. Life policies, for example, are written in trust for the benefit of others and payable to the named beneficiary. This would not form part of the estate. Likewise, pension schemes will often pay a lump sum benefit, which will also be held in a trust. This will also not form part of the estate.

Once you have determined whether any property or financial schemes will form part of the estate, you then have to determine the value of all other assets as at the date of death, while taking into account any debts or taxes that need to be paid. 

It is vitally important you get the value of the estate correct, as it has various tax and other legal implications. Our expert probate solicitors can advise on this.

How to apply for a letter of administration

If a loved one has died without a valid will or without naming any executors who can undertake the role, you must decide whether you are the appropriate person to undertake the role of Administrator.  There are then certain steps you must complete before applying to the Court for Letters of Administration.

First, you need to register the death within five days. Then, you need to ascertain whether Inheritance Tax is payable. You will then be able to access a form from the UK Government website, and fill in all the details of the . It is vital that all of the information is correct. We advise getting assistance from a solicitor with this process.

How to apply for a grant of probate

If the deceased had a will and you are a named executor, there are a number of things you will need to do before applying for a grant of probate.

First, you will have to register the death within five days. After this, you will have to value the estate by going through all bank accounts and pension providers, and calculating the value of any property that they owned.

After valuing the estate, you will have to calculate if there is any inheritance tax to pay and fill in any relevant tax forms. 

When the death has been registered, the estate has been valued, and you have determined whether inheritance tax is owed, you should then be in a position to complete a probate application form, which you can find on the government website.

Again, while this process can be completed without a solicitor, it is advisable to get an expert probate lawyer to assist you, so that there are no legal issues or mistakes further down the line.

Getting expert legal help to apply for probate or letters of administration

Many executors and administrators go through this process without a solicitor. It is perfectly legal to do this, but if the estate is complex, it is best to get legal advice and avoid any potential pitfalls. For example, we recommend getting legal advice if:

The terms of a will are not clear

  • Part of the estate is to pass to children under the age of 18
  • The deceased has left money or property in a trust
  • The deceased owned land or property abroad
  • The deceased owned a business
  • The will may be disputed

Executors are personally liable for any mistakes when dealing with inheritance tax or problems with distributing assets after a grant of probate has been issued. If there are any problems with how the estate has been dealt with, such as an unreasonable delay or a misuse of legal powers, you are likely to need legal assistance. 

Any legal fees can be paid for from the estate of the deceased. 

How can Percy Hughes & Roberts help? 

At Percy Hughes & Roberts Solicitors, we have a team of dedicated probate solicitors who are ready to help you resolve your query or issue relating to this area of the law as quickly and effectively as possible.

If you need assistance with obtaining letters of administration or a grant of probate, or simply want advice on dealing with the probate process, our wills, trusts, and probate solicitors have a wealth of experience. They can help you through what can be a difficult time, dealing with estate and trust property and complex estates.
If you would like to contact one of our expert probate solicitors you can do so by calling 0151 666 9090 or by completing the get in touch form on this site.

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