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Understanding probate

Posted on 14 November 2014

Find out what probate is and how it works with a Will

What is probate?

When a person dies, someone has to deal with their estate, which typically involves any money, property and possessions left. Probate is the court’s authority given to one or more persons to deal with a deceased person’s affairs, called administering the estate. This is why having a Will is important as it allows you to appoint someone you trust with this responsibility.

Why do I need probate?

Probate is needed to deal with the legal proceedings and financial affairs of the deceased. Typically if your estate is worth over £5,000 or includes assets other than cash then probate may be needed.

In cases where there is a Will, probate is given in the form of a legal document called a Grant of Probate, which allows you to deal with the deceased’s estate as instructed in their Will. If there is no Will, the legal document you need to administer the estate is called a Grant of Letters of Administration. Both documents are issued by the Probate Service, which forms part of the Family Division of the High Court.

Who can get the Grant of Probate?

It will usually be the executor (person) appointed named in a Will that can get the grant to sort out the wishes of the deceased. If no-one is named in the Will, or the person named is unwilling or unable to act, anyone over 18 who is named in the Will to receive some or all of the estate can apply. There can be more than one executor.

How do I apply for probate?

You can either apply yourself or through a solicitor.

You can do it yourself if you are an executor, or if there is no Will and the law appoints you as administrator. The process involves swearing an oath that you will administer the estate in accordance with the law, and attending the probate registry in person.

Administering an estate can take a lot of time and leave yourself open to legal liabilities from any mistakes you make. This is why some people prefer hiring a solicitor to deal with probate. If you go through a solicitor any legal costs are covered by the estate.

What is involved with administering an estate?

Everything owned by the deceased is known as their estate, which may consist of money (in a bank, building society, life insurance policy), payments owed to the deceased, property, and personal possessions.

The main responsibilities of administering an estate include:

  • Valuing the assets
  • Paying for the funeral
  • Collecting the assets
  • Paying off bills and/or debts
  • Recovering payments due to the deceased
  • Transferring property
  • Preparing the estate account (an official record of what came in, what was paid out and what happened to the rest)
  • Distributing the money, property and possessions.

Choosing someone to deal with your Estate when you pass away is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. The legal complexities of probate can be hard work and it’s important to choose someone you can trust, and who is willing and able to do it.

You can read our guide to Wills to find out everything you need to know about making a Will.

SunLife offers a range of straightforward and affordable products including over 50s life insurance, funeral plans, equity release, pet insurance, home insurance, car insurance, ISAs and Will writing services.

Here's the information that you need to know about who we are and the other companies that we work with in order to provide our products and services.

Who are SunLife? 

Phoenix Life Limited trades as SunLife and is the provider of the Guaranteed Over 50 Plan, SunLife Insurance and the life insurance policy payment option for Funeral Plans. Phoenix Life Limited’s registered office is at 1 Wythall Green Way, Wythall, Birmingham, B47 6WG (registered in England, no. 1016269). Phoenix Life Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority and is entered on the Financial Services Register (registration no. 110418). As part of SunLife’s commitment to quality service and security, telephone calls may be recorded.

SunLife Limited distributes financial products and services and is a company limited by shares, registered office: 1 Wythall Green Way, Wythall, Birmingham, B47 6WG (registered in England, no. 05460862). SunLife Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and is entered on the Financial Services Register (registration no. 769427).

You can contact us by post at SunLife, PO Box 1395, Peterborough, PE2 2TR or by phone on 0800 008 6060.

If you choose to add Funeral Benefit Option to your Guaranteed Over 50 Plan the funeral services are arranged and provided by Dignity Funerals Limited. Dignity Funerals Limited is a company registered in England and Wales No. 00041598. VAT registered No. 486 6081 14. 4 King Edwards Court, King Edwards Square, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, B73 6AP. Telephone No. 0121 354 1557. Fax No. 0121 355 808. Part of Dignity plc. A British Company. Dignity is not authorised or regulated for this activity by the Financial Conduct Authority or the Prudential Regulation Authority but is a member of the National Association of Funeral Directors.

Who provides the Funeral Plans?

The funeral services are arranged and provided by Dignity Funerals Ltd which is not authorised or regulated for this activity by the Financial Conduct Authority or the Prudential Regulation Authority but is a member of the National Association of Funeral Directors.

The life insurance policy that pays for your funeral will be provided by Phoenix Life Limited, trading as SunLife.

Who provides My Smarter (ISA)?

My Smarter (ISA) is provided by Scottish Friendly Asset Managers Limited. Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Details can be found on the Financial Services register, registration No. 188832. Member of The Investment Association. Registered Office: Scottish Friendly House, 16 Blythswood Square, Glasgow G2 4HJ.

Who provides the Will writing services?

Hugh James is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA Number:303202).

The information contained on this website is based on Hugh James' understanding of the law of intestacy in England and Wales only as at April 2014. The law in Scotland and Northern Ireland is significantly different. This is for information purposes and is not intended to be legal advice.

Who provides Family Life Insurance?

SunLife Family Life Insurance is provided by Scottish Friendly Assurance Society Limited which is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Details can be found on the Financial Services register (registration number 110002). Registered Office: Scottish Friendly House, 16 Blythswood Square, Glasgow G2 4HJ. 

Who provides SunLife Pet Insurance

SunLife Pet Insurance is arranged and administered by BDML Connect Limited. BDML Connect Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (No. 309140). Registered in England and Wales Number 02785540. Registered Office: 45 Westerham Road, Bessels Green, Sevenoaks, Kent, TN13 2QB.

Who provides SunLife Home Insurance

SunLife Home Insurance is arranged and administered by BISL Limited and underwritten by a panel of insurers. BISL Limited are an intermediary authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered in England no. 03231094. Registered office Pegasus House, Bakewell Road, Orton Southgate, Peterborough PE2 6YS.

Who provides SunLife Car Insurance

SunLife Car Insurance is arranged and administered by BISL Limited and underwritten by a panel of insurers. BISL Limited are an intermediary authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered in England no. 03231094. Registered office Pegasus House, Bakewell Road, Orton Southgate, Peterborough PE2 6YS.