Beginner's guide to probate

Arranging accounts and certificates

1. The first thing to do is get a notification of the death from the doctor or hospital which cared for the deceased. Unless there’s a coroner’s inquest, you should get this straight away.

2. Next make an appointment with the local registery office to get a death certificate: deaths must be registered within five days. Get a few extra copies of the certificate because it’s cheaper to do this now than later.

3. Now arrange a funeral – you could have to wait a few weeks for an available date. A simple cremation costs around £1,500 but a burial with a religious service could be more than three times that. You can ask the deceased’s bank for access to the funds to pay for the funeral if you wish.

4. Tell the relevant authorities: HMRC; DWP; passport office; local council; DVLA and any public sector pension providers. See – you can use the Tell us Once service to cover all of these.

5. Contact companies with which the deceased had financial dealings such as banks, building societies, insurers and investment or pension companies. Utility companies need to know too. Each company will need a copy of the death certificate (they will return them to you).

6. All this financial information is needed to show the size of the deceased’s estate which includes all their possessions including property plus savings and other assets – minus debts.

7. You will need to work out whether inheritance tax is due. Estates worth more than £325,000 can be subject to IHT but there are exemptions and you may be able to double this if the deceased's spouse's (also deceased) allowance was not used. See

8. The estate is passed to whoever and in whatever proportions stated by the deceased’s will. If there isn’t one, the estate will be distributed according to intestacy rules (click here for our quick guide to wills). The responsibility for distributing the estate comes down to the executors named in the will, or administrators if there is no will.

9. The executors have to get a deed of probate - the legal proving of the will - before they can distribute the estate, unless the estate is small.

10. The executors can apply for probate by themselves or through a solicitor if the estate is complicated or if inheritance tax is due. You’ll need to pay £215 for probate and get extra copies (50 pence each). Once you’ve sworn an oath (with the probate office or a local solicitor) you apply for the grant of probate. Send copies of this to each of the companies holding assets so they can release them and you can distribute them according to the will. Probate can take months to complete. 


More stuff:

  • A guide to probate in more detail is available here.
  • Get advice here from the government.
  • Find out more about inheritance tax and how to save on it here.


Last updated 7 August 2017.