Probate and letters of administration

If you are named in someone’s will as an executor, you may have to apply for probate. This is a legal document which gives you the authority to share out the estate of the person who has died according to the instructions in the will. You do not always need probate to be able to deal with the estate.

If you have been named in a will as an executor, you don’t have to act if you don’t want to.

Letters of administration

In some circumstances, someone who wants to deal with the estate of someone who has died will have to apply for letters of administration, rather than probate. This person is called an administrator. You have to apply for letters of administration if:

  • there is no will
  • a will is not valid
  • there are no executors named in the will
  • the executors cannot or are unwilling to act.

There are strict rules about who can be an administrator. If there is a valid will, you can apply for letters of administration if:

  • the person who died left all of their estate to you in the will, and
  • the executors are not named, or cannot or are unwilling to act.

If there is no valid will, and you are the next-of-kin, you can apply to be an administrator in the following order of priority:

  1. you are the married partner or civil partner of the person who has died
  2. you are the child of the person who has died
  3. you are the grandchild of the person who has died
  4. you are the parent of the person who has died
  5. you are the brother or sister of the person who has died
  6. you are the nephew or niece of the person who has died
  7. you are another relative of the person who has died.

An unmarried partner, or same-sex partner who has not registered a civil partnership and who has not been named in a will as an executor will not usually be able to act as an administrator.

You do not always need letters of administration to be able to deal with the estate of someone who has died.

Do you always need probate or letters of administration

You usually need probate or letters of administration to deal with an estate if it includes property such as a flat or a house. Otherwise, you may not need probate or letters of administration if:

  • the estate is just made up of cash (that is, bank notes and coins) and personal possessions such as a car, furniture, and jewellery
  • all the property in the estate is owned as beneficial joint tenants This property automatically becomes wholly owned by the other owner
  • you had a joint bank account
  • the amount of money is small
  • you discover that the estate is insolvent, that is, there is not enough money in the estate to pay all the debts, taxes and expenses
  • there are certain life insurance policies and pension benefits in the estate.