Guide to probate

How to do it yourself

It's a morbid topic, but when someone dies, if you're in charge of sorting out their property, money and other possessions, you may need to go through a process known as 'probate'. And while this can be yet another thing to deal with at a difficult time, it's often something you can do yourself, which can save you £1,000s. This guide explains how.

What is probate?


When someone dies and leaves property, money and possessions – known as their estate – you need to sort out who gets what. To do this, you need what is known as a 'grant of representation'. This proves your authority to administer the estate. What form this takes will depend on whether a will has been left.

  • If a will has been left – the executor(s) will need to apply for a grant of probate.
  • If a will hasn't been left – the next of kin will need to apply for a grant of letters of administration.

The process of applying for the grant and the document you use to manage the estate is often generically referred to as 'probate' – for simplicity, this is the term we will use in the guide.

Probate is the same for everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but if you live in Scotland it's called 'confirmation' (see below for more info on how this differs).

Put simply, and in order, the executor's job and the process of dealing with probate involves:

  • Gathering any assets, for example, money left in bank accounts
  • Paying any bills
  • Distributing what's left according to the will

Does everyone need to use probate?

No. Many estates don't need to go through this process. If there's only jointly-owned property and money which passes to a spouse or civil partner when someone dies, probate (or 'confirmation', in Scotland) will not normally be needed.

If you're not sure whether probate is necessary, seek advice from HM Revenue & Customs.

How long does probate take?

In England and Wales, more than 250,000 probate applications are typically made each year, with January, February and March tending to be the busiest months. 

Provided there are no complications (such as extra details being asked for), once you've applied for a grant of probate you'll normally need to wait up to 16 weeks to be given it.

Once you've got it, the amount of time it then takes to complete probate will depend on the estate's complexity. An estate that includes property to sell, or multiple shares and investments, will inevitably take longer to deal with than one simply consisting of money in a bank account. Probate can take months, and in very complex cases, even years.

How much does probate cost?

There's an upfront fee for probate, whether you decide to go it alone or appoint the help of a probate specialist.

Going through probate without any help may seem daunting, but you don't need to throw money at it to give you confidence – you could end up wasting £1,000s. Don't be scared of probate. The biggest message here is...

You don't need to waste money on a probate specialist if you're dealing with an uncomplicated estate – it's much cheaper to do it yourself.

Application fees for probate in England and Wales are £300, whether you apply through a solicitor or take the DIY option. Estates worth less than £5,000 pay no fee. In Northern Ireland, the fee is £284 if you apply through a solicitor, or £284 plus another £71 fee if you take the DIY route – though neither of these fees apply for estates worth less than £10,000.

Additional copies of the probate form can be ordered for £1.50 each. Multiple copies are essential for the administration process, so it's a good idea to order a few extra copies.

If you're on a low income and/or claiming certain benefits, you may be able to get a full or partial discount on the probate fee. Check your eligibility and apply online for the Help with Fees scheme, or you can download a paper form.

Probate specialist cost

If you do decide you want to pay for the help of a probate specialist, how much you pay will depend on which route you take. You can usually get this help in three main ways:

  1. Fixed-fee specialist. Here the specialist charges a fee based on an estimate of the volume of work involved.

  2. Hourly rate probate specialist and solicitor. These will usually charge an hourly rate or a percentage fee based on the estate's value. This can be anywhere between 1% and 5% of the value of the estate plus VAT – so obviously those dealing with large estates will be handing over a big wad of cash if they go down this route.

    However, this does need to be weighed up against the complexity of the estate. Someone dealing with a complicated estate may need a lot more help, and could lose money further down the line if probate isn't done correctly.

  3. Banks. Your bank will probably offer a probate and estate administration service. But this can often come out more expensive than using a solicitor or specialist company. You could always phone for a quote, but it's probably best to steer clear of this route.

The cost will also depend on whether you choose 'probate-only' or opt for the more expensive 'full estate administration'. 

With probate-only, a specialist simply applies for probate for you. Once probate is granted, you'll be able to start dealing with the deceased's estate – such as assets, debts and taxes. Where you opt for full-estate administration, the specialist will apply for probate but also take on responsibility for the deceased's estate itself (meaning you don't have to get involved).

According to SunLife, the average cost of using a probate specialist was around £2,600 in 2022 – up 10% on 2021.

DIY probate: the 9 steps – best option for most


Previously when we've spoken to our users who have been through the probate process, those who did use a specialist for more simple estates admitted they wished they'd gone down the DIY route, while those who opted for the DIY approach said it was sometimes a complicated and time-consuming process. All seemed to agree it was a welcome distraction from their grieving and gave them something to focus on.

If you're dealing with a complicated estate, or don't feel confident sorting out probate yourself even after reading this guide, we've got a section below on how to appoint a specialist and how much it will cost you.

Most probate cases follow the same process, so below we'll start by outlining the main steps you'll go through if doing probate yourself and not enlisting the help of a specialist.

1. Register the death

You'll need a copy of the death certificate for each of the deceased's assets (for example each bank account, credit card, mortgage and so on), so before you can start probate, you'll need to register the death.

You'll usually need to do this within five days in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, or eight days in Scotland – though this doesn't apply if the death's reported to the coroner. To do this, go to the register office for the area where the death happened – use to find it. You may need to book an appointment, so it's worth phoning first.

Documents to take when registering a death

You'll need the medical certificate of the cause of death, plus a birth certificate, marriage or civil partnership certificate or NHS medical card if available. A relative will usually need to register the death, if possible, but others are allowed to do this in some circumstances.

There's a useful tool to help you find exactly who can do it, and what documents are needed, for where you are in the UK. The registrar will then give you a certificate for burial or cremation, and a certificate of registration of death (more commonly known as a death certificate).

  • Report a death to multiple organisations in one go

    There are a few options available if you want to notify multiple organisations simultaneously about somebody's death:

    Informing Government organisations

    In some areas, you can use the Tell Us Once service to report a death to most Government organisations in one go, including council tax, benefits, passport and driving licence info.

    Not all councils work with Tell Us Once though – check if yours does when you're registering the death, as it'll need to give you a number to use for this. See Tell Us Once.

    Informing banks, building societies, utility companies and more

    Here there are more options to choose from:

    • Life Ledger covers over 1,000 organisations. If you want to make life easier for your relatives or loved ones in future, it also offers a 'register a life' service to hold the details of accounts, pensions, subscriptions etc. This aims to make it easier to contact relevant organisations after a death.

    • Settld is a similar service but covers over 1,500 organisations, including financial services, online/social media and utility providers.

    • The Death Notification Service notifies banks and building societies in one step, though it's scope is more limited than the two options above.

2. Find out if there's a will

Before you do anything else, find out if there's a will. It's a good idea to start looking for a will in the first week after the death if you can, as it may also have other instructions such as funeral plans. If you don't have a will yourself and want one, see our Cheap and free wills guide.

It's important to establish if there's a will as it'll say who the executor is. It also names who'll get any assets left.

If the will doesn't name an executor, or the person who has been named can't take on the position for any reason, it gets more complicated. However, there is a process to follow. Any beneficiaries of the estate – usually a close relative such as a spouse, child or parent – can apply to the probate registry to be what is known as an 'administrator' of the estate instead.

What if there isn't a will?

If no valid will has been left, the deceased has died 'intestate'. In this instance, laws known as intestacy rules govern how their estate should be distributed. Unmarried or divorced partners normally don't inherit anything under intestacy rules.

3. Sort inheritance tax

Once you know who the executor is – the person authorised to deal with the deceased's property, money and possessions – they need to apply for a document known as a 'grant'. (If there is more than one executor, only one needs to apply.) It shows you have the right to access funds, sort finances and share out assets.

If the person died after 1 January 2022, the first step in applying for the 'grant' is to check the value of the deceased's estate (more details about this in point 8) and use the online checker tool to find out if inheritance tax (IHT) is likely to be owed. 

Where the estimated value of the estate is BELOW the IHT threshold (currently £325,000)

Here it'll be classed as an 'excepted estate' and you don't need to report this separately to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) – though you'll still need to report it as part of your probate application.

Do note that inheritance tax is not charged on assets (or even entire estates) which are being transferred to a surviving spouse (see the quick question below for more on this).

Where the estimated value of the estate is ABOVE the IHT threshold (£325,000)

Here you'll need to fill in an IHT400 form and send it to HMRC. Be sure to then wait 20 working days before applying for probate.

In the scenario where the person who died is leaving behind their home to a direct descendant, such as a child or grandchild, inheritance tax might not actually be charged on the first £500,000 of the estate – something that's a result of the 'residence nil-rate band' (if this applies to you, you'll need to fill in an IHT400 form and an IHT435 form). Our Inheritance tax guide has more details on how this extra allowance works.

If there is tax to pay, you'll need to settle this before the grant is issued to you. You have six months from the end of the month in which the person died to do so. You can defer tax and pay in instalments on some types of assets, including land, some shares and the value of any business owned (not the assets).

If there's enough money in a bank account of the deceased to cover the amount of tax due, it should be possible to arrange a direct payment to HMRC. Most UK banks permit this if you send an IHT423 form.

If there isn't enough money you'll have to pay out of your own pocket (if you can) and recoup the money from the estate after probate – or take a loan from a bank. The loan can then be repaid from the estate after the grant has been issued and assets released.

But even if the money is borrowed, an estate that consists mainly of the family home may not have enough cash or other assets to repay it. So the family home may have to be sold or mortgaged to do so. If you've tried everything possible but still failed to raise money for the fees, you might be able to apply in 'exceptional' circumstances for help from the Lord Chancellor.

  • What if we were married and only had joint assets?

    If assets (or even an entire estate) are being transferred to a surviving spouse or civil partner, no inheritance tax will normally be charged. For example, if the deceased and their spouse or civil partner owned a home under a joint tenancy, the surviving partner automatically inherits it (it doesn't pass as part of the will). This means the surviving spouse or civil partner can continue living there with no inheritance tax to pay.

    However, if it's a joint ownership but the owners weren't married or in a civil partnership (or covered under another exemption, see HM Revenue & Customs' webpage), it'll be liable for inheritance tax.

    If the deceased and the surviving joint owner each owned a portion of the property (for example, a half or a third), they're known as 'tenants in common'. In this instance, the deceased's share of the property does pass as part of their will.

    If it passes to the surviving spouse or civil partner (or is covered under another exemption, see HM Revenue & Customs for details), it's exempt from inheritance tax. Otherwise, it will be taxable.

    The rules around this are complex, so see HM Revenue & Customs for help. Our Inheritance tax guide also has useful info on how the system works.

  • Can I stop a grant if needed?

    You may be in the situation where you need to stop a grant from going ahead, for example if there's a dispute over whether a will exists – this is called a 'caveat'. To get a caveat, you'll need to be over 18 and apply online, write to or visit any probate registry – it costs £3 and once issued lasts six months.

  • What bank account do I use when funds are released?

    It's a good idea to open a special bank account on behalf of the estate straight away so you can pay money into it as funds are released.

    The bank and other institutions can then transfer money from the deceased's bank account into the account you've set up as an executor once the grant has been issued.

4. Apply for probate


You'll need to complete a probate application. For some this can be done online, for others it'll need to be completed by paper form. 

You can use the online service if the person who died lived in England or Wales most of the time, you're the executor or administrator, and you:

Applying for probate (whether online or via post) incurs a fee of £300 (£284 in Northern Ireland), though you can apply for help with this fee if you can't afford  it.

Completing an ONLINE probate application form

The main probate application form can be completed online, but afterwards you'll still need to send the original will and any supporting documents to: HMCTS Probate, PO Box 12625, Harlow, CM20 9QE.

You're advised to use a signed-for or tracked postal service that will deliver to PO boxes to send these.

Completing a PAPER probate application form

If there's a will, you'll need to fill in form PA1P. If there's not a will, fill in form PA1A. You can do this yourself or you can call the probate and inheritance tax helpline on 0300 123 1072 or see HMRC for help completing the form.

Send to HMCTS Probate, PO Box 12625, Harlow, CM20 9QE and include:

  • Probate application form PA1P or PA1A
  • The original will, if completing form PA1P
  • Completed inheritance tax form(s): IHT205 or IHT207, and IHT217, if applicable
  • A cheque for £300 to cover the application fee (made payable to HM Courts & Tribunals Service)
  • Any supporting documents as prompted on the form

If you're applying from Northern Ireland, some people are able to apply online. If this isn't an option for you, you'll have to download one of these paper forms:

Then you'll need to post the completed form to:

The Probate Office, Royal Courts of Justice
Chichester Street

5. Tell all organisations and close accounts

You'll need to tell every organisation you can think of that the deceased had a relationship with, including Government bodies and financial and utility companies. This makes sure you fulfil your responsibilities, get back money owed and ensure no more charges are taken.

Where to check. Go through all paperwork, internet bookmarks and files to find who they had accounts with. They may have had their own financial factsheet with details that'll help, so check with next-of-kin.

If you can't find all the deceased's bank, building society or savings accounts, website My Lost Account can find out where they held an account, though it can take up to three months to trace. There are also sites that can help you trace lost pensions and investments too. See our Reclaim forgotten cash guide for a full how-to.

Warning. If you've a second credit card on the deceased's account, it'll be frozen once you've told the bank. If you rely on that card, ask for an account in your name, or see Best Cards for Spending for top deals. If you had a joint account, however, you'll be able to get in contact with the bank and change the account solely into your name.

We've put together a list of some of the main organisations to contact. They won't all apply to everyone, but they'll help you make a start:

  • Financial organisations to contact

    • Bank or building society – to close accounts and retrieve money, pay debts if necessary, or cancel standing orders and direct debits. They'll also be able to transfer any joint accounts solely into your name.

    • Savings providers – to close accounts and retrieve money. Look on a recent statement for contact details, or try googling the provider's name.

      It's worth noting we've heard banks may move the deceased's savings over to an account with a lower interest rate after they've been told of the account holder's death. So check this directly with the bank as soon as you can.

    • Mortgage or loan provider, credit card or store card companies – to close accounts and pay any debts if necessary.

    • Insurance companies – to claim on any life insurance or payment protection insurance (PPI), or to cancel any existing policies such as home, car, travel or medical insurance. If you're a surviving spouse and still need the home insurance but it was in your partner's name, you can phone and get the policy changed to your name.

    • Pension companies – to claim any payments and close the accounts. Look on a recent statement for contact details, or try googling the name of the company.

    • Student Loans Company – to get a student loan cancelled. Repayments cease when someone dies. See the Student Loans Company website for contact details.

    • Any other company the deceased had a rental, hire purchase or loan with – to close accounts and clear debts, if necessary. Again, look on a statement for contact details.
  • Utility companies and others to contact

    • Utility companies (gas, electricity, water) – to close accounts and settle bills, if necessary, or to reclaim money that's owed. Look on a recent bill for contact details. The Consumer Council for Water also lists water companies in England and Wales. If you're the surviving spouse and are still living in the home, you'll just need to make sure the bills are now in your name.

      The process above can also be followed for mobile, home phone, broadband and digital TV firms – for contact details, try looking at bills or googling company names.

    • Landlord or local authority if they rented a property – to stop rent payments being taken, and possibly reclaim the deposit. See to find contact details for your local authority.

    • Royal Mail – if any post needs redirecting. See Royal Mail and scroll down to the 'special circumstances application form', written in red text and available to download.

    • The deceased's employer – it's worth informing their employer immediately for compassionate reasons, but it's also worth a call as the deceased may have had death-in-service or other insurance linked to their work, which you may be able to claim on.

    • Healthcare providers, organisations or clubs – such as their dentist, optician, any social clubs, trade unions and their church or place of worship, to cancel any memberships, collect funds owed or settle outstanding payments.

    • Reduce the amount of junk mail sent to the deceased – see the Bereavement Register and Deceased Preference Service websites for contact details. To stop baby-related mail, register with MPS Baby where companies are advised how your circumstances have changed as well as your preference not to receive further mailings about baby products and services.

    • Email providers / social media – charity Young Lives vs Cancer has information on how to ask each provider to close an email account down. And each social media platform has a process you can go through to delete an account or make one inactive.

Quick question

  • Do I have to apply for probate to be able to access money left in bank accounts?

    Banks will usually release money up to a certain amount without requiring a Grant of Probate, but each financial institution has its own limit that determines whether or not probate is needed. We've created the table below to show the current limits for the major financial companies in the UK.

    Thresholds when probate is required by financial organisation
    Financial organisation Maximum you can withdraw without probate



    Maximum you can withdraw without probate









    Bank of Ireland




    Bank of Scotland


    Post Office




    Royal Bank of Scotland


    Birmingham Midshires


    Sainsbury's Bank


    Co-op Bank




    First Direct

    Decided on a case-by-case basis

    Skipton Building Society




    Tesco Bank



    Decided on a case-by-case basis



    Lloyds Bank


    Virgin Money


    M&S Bank


    Yorkshire Building Society


6. Pay off any debts

Debts will normally need to be paid, but only if the deceased had money left. This includes mortgages, loans, credit and store cards, hire purchase agreements and any other commercial debt – excluding student loans.

Importantly, only the deceased's estate is liable for any debts – not their family. If there's only enough to pay some debts, these generally need to be prioritised in this order: secured debts (such as mortgage), funeral costs, then other debts (including taxes).

We've simplified this to give you an idea, but the order of payment required under law is complex. There are rules on how much everyone should get if there isn't enough to pay all of these. Contact Citizens Advice for help. It's important to note though:

  • Mortgages must be paid. This applies even if there's no insurance. In the worst case, you may have to sell the property, but if you're in trouble, contact the lender to discuss options. Also talk to a solicitor or Citizens Advice, and see our Debt help guide for info on free debt-counselling help.

  • Debts in joint names become the sole responsibility of the surviving person. If you're concerned about the impact this may have, contact Citizens Advice. See our Debt help guide for where to get free one-on-one debt-counselling help.

If all the deceased's assets pass to their surviving partner there may be no money left in the estate to pay any debts, which could mean they're written off. However, creditors can apply for an 'insolvency administration order' within five years of the death. This can legally divide any property or assets that automatically pass to a surviving partner, and force a sale.

So first try to come to an agreement with lenders, and try to pay them yourself if absolutely necessary. This is a complex issue, so you may need to discuss it with Citizens Advice.

Important. Make sure you check whether the deceased had any form of insurance. If they did, it might be the deceased's debts are covered by their life insurance or PPI (more on this below).

  • Estate left to share out? Try to find other beneficiaries

    If there is estate left to share out, it could be worth advertising this in The Gazette (the official public record for notices such as these) and the local newspaper covering the area (particularly if it's a property). Notices cost about £70, but can be claimed back from the estate.

    Under the Trustee Act 1925, placing the advertisement means the executor would not be liable if someone came forward later that the executor did not know about at the time of the notice. You must wait at least two months and one day from the date of the advertisement before sharing out the estate. 

7. Claim on any life insurance plans

Life insurance usually pays a lump sum to the spouse or family after the insured person dies. So if the deceased had a life insurance or mortgage life insurance plan, call the provider to let it know they've passed away, and to start the claims process.

If you've any info on the policy, make sure it's to hand when you call, as the policy number and details will help speed up the process. The provider will then let you know what paperwork's needed formally to put in the claim.

If you don't have the policy details, don't worry. The provider should be able to trace details of the plan through the policyholder's name, date of birth and address. It'll also need to see the death certificate to validate the claim, so be prepared to send this.

How long it'll take to come through depends on the circumstances. As a rough guide, it can be anything from a week to several months if the insurance company feels it needs to investigate further.

Is the life insurance policy in trust? If you write a life insurance policy in trust, the proceeds from the policy can be paid directly to the beneficiaries rather than to your legal estate, and therefore won't be taken into account when inheritance tax (IHT) is calculated.

This is because a trust works in a similar way to an ISA wrapper – it wraps itself around whatever you have in it (for example, a life insurance policy) and protects it from the taxman, meaning they can't take any tax from money you have in there, or make the money count towards your IHT allowance. It also means it's likely the money will be available sooner than if you had to go through probate to get it. For help with the claims process, see the Association of British Insurers.

8. Value the estate

Check if the deceased had any of the following, which all count towards their 'estate':

  • Money held in financial institutions.
  • Property and land.
  • Businesses.
  • Investments – stocks, shares, ISAs and so on.
  • Personal items – for example jewellery, musical instruments, stamp collections, cars.
  • Contents of home.
  • Money payable on death from a pension (excluding ongoing pension payments to a surviving partner).
  • Life insurance payments paid on death, although as above, tax will not be due on policies held in trust.
  • Loans made by the deceased to another person.
  • Certain types of trust from which the deceased benefited (consider getting professional advice on this).
  • An alternatively secured pension fund from which the deceased benefited.

Bank accounts can be added up easily, but property may need a proper valuation to work out what it's worth (see Free house price valuations on how to value a property). Insurance payouts after death may count as part of the estate, depending on the policy, so factor this in.

Gifts given by the deceased within seven years of their death may need to be taken into account, as well as assets they had an interest in (for example, if they gave property to their kids but lived in it rent-free). See for more on how to value someone's estate.

Quick question:

  • What happens to income received by the deceased AFTER their death?

    It might be the case that the deceased continues to receive some income between their death and the point at which their estate is distributed to beneficiaries (known as the 'administration period') – for example, savings interest or dividend income.

    Where the only income received is savings interest and it is less than £500, you do not need to report this to HMRC. 

    But if the savings interest received is greater than £500 – or the deceased received any dividend income at all – this will need to be reported to HMRC (from the 2024/25 tax year, dividend income will form part of the £500 tax-free allowance).

    The way in which you need to report any income received during the administration period depends on whether you're dealing with a 'simple' or 'complex' estate. See the website for more information on the differences between the two.

    Once you've contacted HMRC, it will let you know whether income tax is due and – if it is – how to pay it.

    After any tax has been paid, the income received during the administration period can be added to the value of the deceased's estate.

9. Share out the remaining assets

Once you've gone through all these steps, you'll be pleased to hear there's only one big financial task left to tackle – to share out what's left of the estate.

Here, whatever's left once all debts and taxes are paid needs to be distributed. If there's a will, this should be simple as it should state where any remaining assets go.

- What if there's no will?

If there isn't a will, the assets are distributed under the 'rules of intestacy' (though the beneficiaries can agree among themselves to redistribute it as they wish).

Generally these mean that if the deceased was married or in a civil partnership with an estate worth £322,000 or less, everything goes to the husband, wife or civil partner (this is known as 'succession' in Scotland and different rules apply – see the Scottish Government website).

There's a complex set of rules around this depending on the surviving relatives, the amount involved and which part of the UK you're in.

- Unmarried partners won't automatically get a share

If you weren't married or in a civil partnership, sadly you won't automatically get a share of the estate. But if the person who's died hasn't left you anything in their will, you've the option to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 in England and Wales.

Other dependants may also be able to claim under this too. See to apply. It's worth seeking legal help if you want to do this, or if any family disputes arise – see Citizens Advice for help.

Tips from MSE users who've been through probate…

  • Be organised! Lots of MoneySavers got in touch to say before you do anything, go out and buy a notebook and folders to keep track of everything methodically. You know how you work best, but preparation is key.

  • Get extra copies of the death certificate. By far the most repeated advice. The death certificate is an official copy of what's on the death register, often needed as proof by companies and financial institutions such as banks and insurance firms.

    These are now £11 up from £4 in England and Wales, £8 in Northern Ireland and £12 in Scotland. This goes up if you want more copies at a later date, so it's worth buying as many copies as you'll need to avoid paying extra down the line – typically you'll need about five.

MSE weekly email

FREE weekly MoneySaving email

For all the latest deals, guides and loopholes simply sign up today – it's spam-free!

Appointing a probate specialist


We've outlined the steps you need to go through if you're happy to go it alone in the section above. If you feel you want to use a specialist, or are dealing with a particularly complicated estate, here are some tips on finding and appointing a probate specialist.

A probate specialist might be a solicitor or accountant, but one thing you can be sure of is they'll charge a fee.

You might want to think about using a probate specialist if:

  • The value of the estate is over the inheritance tax threshold and the estate is still earning a regular income where there are complicated taxes due. The standard individual inheritance tax-free threshold is currently £325,000. For more details, refer to our Inheritance tax guide.
  • The deceased died without a will, and it's a complicated estate to administer.
  • There are doubts about the validity of the will.
  • The deceased had dependants who were deliberately left out of the will, but who might want to make a claim on the estate.
  • The estate has complex arrangements, such as assets held in a trust.
  • The estate is bankrupt (also known as insolvent).
  • There are doubts that the estate is bankrupt.
  • The estate includes foreign property or assets.
  • The deceased lived outside the UK for tax purposes.

Remember that a specialist can either apply for probate on your behalf and then leave you to deal with the deceased's estate yourself (known as 'probate-only) or it can take responsibility for the deceased's estate as well (known as 'full estate administration'). 

But unless the estate falls into any of the categories above, then we'd encourage you follow the nine DIY steps above to see if you can go the whole probate process alone and save some money.

How to find a probate provider?

You can search The Law Society for solicitors in England and Wales who deal with probate. Just use the Quick Search tool and select 'Wills, trusts and probate' to find a solicitor or firm near you. If you live in Scotland, you can use the Scottish solicitors directory, and for Northern Ireland residents, use the Northern Ireland solicitors directory.

Alternatively, if you opt for an accountant rather than a solicitor, you can use the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) database to find an accredited probate accountancy firm

How are probate providers regulated?

While administration of estates is not a regulated activity in England and Wales,  those accredited to provide probate – such as solicitors and accountancy firms – are regulated.

Solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors' Regulation Authority or SRA (in England and Wales; Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own regulators). If you have problems, in the first instance you should complain to the solicitors' firm.

Solicitors are required to have indemnity insurance for when things go wrong, including six years of additional ('run-off') cover if their firm closes. Furthermore, the SRA's Solicitors' Indemnity Fund offers £1 million of additional cover.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) regulates accountancy firms that are authorised to offer probate services. It's worth noting that accredited probate accountants are only allowed to deal with non-contentious probate in England and Wales. A service is treated as contentious when it becomes likely that an application will be made to court.

Accountants are also required to have indemnity insurance for when things go wrong. Additionally, the ICAEW has a compensation fund of 'last resort' which provides extra cover if you suffer a loss and the accountancy firm is unable to pay out.

Where a dispute with a solicitor or accountant remains unresolved, you might be able to the free Legal Ombudsman service for redress instead. In some cases, it's actually more appropriate to escalate to the Legal Ombudsman rather than the SRA or ICAEW (see this handy SRA page for guidance on when a dispute is more likely to sit with the Legal Ombudsman).

What happens if something goes wrong with the probate process?

Probate negligence is when a probate specialist fails to follow correct procedures, misses legal deadlines, or gives incorrect tax or legal advice to a client that results in financial loss.

Making a probate negligence claim

If an executor, administrator or beneficiary loses out as a direct result of an error or mistake by a probate specialist, they can make a probate negligence claim for compensation. In the first instance, it's best to first try to resolve the issue informally with your probate provider, perhaps through the firm's complaints procedure.

If that doesn't work, and your claim is for less than £10,000, you could take it to the Small claims court. If the financial loss is more than £10,000, you'll need to appoint a solicitor to help to recover legal costs and get you compensation.

A probate negligence claim must be made within six years of the negligence, or within three years of when you first became aware that some form of negligence occurred.

Warning. Watch out for 'pre-paid probate' services – they come with little protection

Probate is a service typically provided at the time of need, in other words when someone has died. As discussed above, by using a regulated solicitor or accountancy firm to provide probate you'll have a good level of protection.

But the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has warned than an increasing number of firms are now offering 'pre-paid probate' services. Essentially, you can pay a firm up front – in other words, before you've died – to take on responsibility for probate of your estate when the time comes (presumably so that your loved ones don't have to shell out for more expensive probate fees at the time of need).

The problem is that pre-paid probate is neither regulated by the FCA, nor do any solicitor or accountancy firms offer pre-paid probate services. This means any pre-paid probate firms you encounter will almost certainly not be regulated, so there's no oversight.

With an unregulated firm there'll be little protection in the event something goes wrong. For example, there might not be any means of you making a complaint (including no access to the financial or legal ombudsmen). Plus, your money could be at risk if the firm went bust – as there won't be any requirement for the firm to have insurance in place (nor will you have access to the Financial Services Compensation Scheme).

Probate in Scotland is called 'confirmation' and works differently to the rest of the UK


The process of applying for probate in Scotland is known as 'confirmation' and works slightly differently to probate in the rest of the UK.

Confirmation is a legal document which effectively transfers the estate assets to the executors as trustees so they can deal with them in line with what's set out in the will. A maximum of four executors can apply for confirmation (each must be aged 16 or older).

When you do/don't need confirmation

You DON'T need confirmation if there's only jointly-owned property and money which passes in full to a surviving spouse or civil partner.

Even if there's not a surviving spouse who inherits the deceased's entire estate, you MAY NOT need to apply for confirmation if there's no property to deal with and the deceased didn't leave many assets. But each financial institution – be it a bank, building society, insurance company, etc – has a different 'probate threshold', so check with each company what their threshold is.

You MAY to need to obtain confirmation if you've been told by a financial institution that you need it in order to release any money, stocks, shares, assets or policies. But first ask the company if they will release the money without getting confirmation.

You DO need confirmation if the deceased owned a property either solely in their name or jointly but without a survivorship destination (known elsewhere in the UK as owning a property on a 'tenants-in-common' basis).

If confirmation is required, the route you need to take to get it will depend on whether there's a will and whether the estate is considered small (worth £36,000 or less) or large (worth more than £36,000), not taking into account any debts the deceased had when they died.

When there's a will

If the deceased left a will, this means they died 'testate'.

Where there was a will and you need confirmation, how you then go about obtaining it depends on the size of the deceased's estate: 

- If the estate is worth £36,000 or less

Then it's considered small, so you can get free help from the deceased's local sheriff's office (or the Edinburgh sheriff court if they had no known address). The sheriff clerk will be able to help you apply for confirmation (including preparing the 'inventory'). Contact the deceased's local sheriff court to arrange an appointment.

- If the estate is worth more than £36,000

Then it's considered a large estate, so you can either apply for confirmation by yourself (if you're confident), speak with a confirmation specialist, or seek legal advice (the most expensive option).

When there's no will

If the deceased didn't leave a will, this means they died 'intestate'.

Where there wasn't a will and you need confirmation, you might need to undergo extra steps before applying for it. Again, this depends on whether the estate is large or small:

- If the estate's worth more than £36,000 

Then first you'll need to go through a court process to be appointed 'executor-dative' and then you'll need to get a 'bond of caution'. A bond of caution is an insurance policy that protects the beneficiaries should you, the executor, not pay them their inheritance.

If the estate's worth more than £250,000, you can normally only get a bond of caution by using a solicitor to administer and distribute the estate. If it's worth less than this, you could get the bond through an insurance broker instead. The fee is based on the gross value of the estate. The minimum fee charged by insurance companies is normally £250.

- If the estate's worth £36,000 or less

Here you'll only need a bond of caution if you don't get a sheriff clerk to help you prepare your confirmation application. You'll still need to be appointed 'executor-dative', but this is something a clerk can help you with. To get this free help, you can contact your local sheriff court to arrange an appointment.

How to apply for confirmation

When applying for confirmation, you must include a list of all the deceased's assets and their value (at the time of death), even if they're joint accounts and/or you've already dealt with them. This is known as an 'inventory' and it'll be publicly available if confirmation is granted.

Fees for applying for confirmation in Scotland

Estate value


Under £50,000


£50,000 to £250,000


Over £250,000


Distributing the estate assets

Once confirmation's been granted, the executor should wait six months from the date of death before distributing any of the estate to those entitled to it. This is to allow people or companies with a claim on the estate to make their claim known (otherwise claims might be made on the beneficiaries).

With thanks to Mike Davis, founder of My Probate Partner, for fact-checking this section of the guide on how confirmation works in Scotland.

Spotted out of date info/broken links? Email: