If you have been named as an executor in someone’s will, you will be responsible for administering their estate after they die. In most cases, before you can even begin to deal with the deceased’s estate, you will need to apply for a grant of representation.
Probate is often referred to as the process of handling someone’s financial affairs following their death. This will include settling any debts, taxes, funeral expenses and administration costs, and thereafter passing on money and property to beneficiaries named under the will.
In the absence of a will, or a valid will, the task of dealing with the estate usually falls to the deceased’s next of kin. If that person is you, you will need to apply for a different type of grant, ie; letters of administration. In these circumstances you will be known as an administrator.
Letters of administration will also be granted where a will exists but no executor is named in the will, or where all named executors are unable or unwilling to apply for the grant of probate. If there is more than one executor, and at least one remains willing and able to act, that individual may still apply for probate.
To apply for either type of grant in England and Wales you will need to complete and send form PA1 to the Probate Registry. You may want to appoint a legal adviser to do this for you. Nonetheless, understanding how to apply for a grant of representation using form PA1 can help you to understand what work is being undertaken on your behalf.
What is a grant of representation?
Before examining the process of how to apply for a grant of representation using form PA1, it is important to first understand what a ‘grant of representation’ means.
The ‘grant of representation’ is the official document proving your legal entitlement to deal with the deceased’s estate. This document must be obtained before you are able to, for example, close bank accounts or liquidate any assets.
Is a grant of representation always needed?
There are limited circumstances where a ‘grant of representation’ is not required:
- the deceased didn’t own any property or assets outright. Any jointly owned asset such as the matrimonial home will pass automatically by survivorship to the deceased’s spouse or civil partner.
- the deceased’s savings are held in a joint account. In these circumstances, the bank and building society may only need to see the death certificate to arrange for the funds to be transferred solely to the surviving joint owner.
- the amount of savings held in any account is small, irrespective of whether these funds are held jointly or in the deceased’s sole name. Not all banks and building societies apply a limit, normally £5,000. The threshold in some cases can be as much as £50,000.
That said, a grant of representation will always be required in order to sell or transfer any property held in the deceased’s sole name, or where property is owned jointly but as tenants in common rather than as joint tenants.
A tenancy in common refers to property held under a shared tenancy by two or more people. Here each holder has a distinct and transferable interest. Where one owner dies, their interest does not automatically pass to any joint owner(s) by survivorship, rather it will form part of the deceased’s estate.
Who can apply for a grant of representation?
You can apply for a grant of representation if you are named in the will as an executor. Executors not wishing to apply for a grant can renounce their rights altogether or, alternatively, reserve their rights to apply in the future.
However, only those executors who swear an oath in support of the application will be named on the grant, and only their signature will be required to administer the deceased’s estate.
In the absence of a valid will, or where the executors are unwilling or unable to act, you can apply for a grant if you are named in the will or next of kin.
For next of kin, there is an order of priority running from spouse or civil partner, to children, parents, siblings, grandparents and uncles and aunts. The surviving partner of an unmarried couple will not be entitled to apply for a grant of representation.
If more than one person wishes to apply for a grant, you will all need to make a joint application. A maximum of four applicants is permitted.
How to apply for a grant of representation using form PA1
The value of the deceased’s estate
Prior to making an application for a grant of representation you will need to value the deceased’s estate. It is important to get this right as it will determine whether or not inheritance tax is due on the estate.
The valuation of the deceased’s estate should include:
- any property (or share of property) including their home
- any other physical possessions including jewellery, antiques and artwork
- any bank, building society or other savings
- any occupational pensions that include a lump sum payment on death
- any life assurance or endowment policies
- any stocks and shares or other investments.
You will need to offset against the value of the estate any debts or liabilities including any mortgage, credit cards, loans, unpaid bills, plus funeral expenses and administration costs.
You should also explore whether any significant cash or other gifts have been made within the last seven years of death as these may still form part of the estate for the purposes of inheritance tax.
Inheritance tax liability
Inheritance tax will fall due on the estate if the value exceeds the current threshold of £325,000 (as of 2018). There are exceptions however, for example, assets passing to a spouse or civil partner are exempt.
If inheritance tax is payable, you will need to obtain permission from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to proceed with the application for a grant of representation. You will need to submit inheritance tax declaration forms with your application. A grant of representation will not be issued unless you use the forms to declare that there is no tax to pay or, where tax falls due, HMRC have confirmed to the Probate Service that they give authority to obtain the grant.
The application using form PA1
Once you have valued the estate and established whether inheritance tax is payable, you will need to send form PA1 to the Probate Registry providing details of the deceased, their estate and any executors.
Additional documentation that will also need to accompany the application includes:
- the original will (and any codicils, ie; official amendments to the will)
- the death certificate
- the relevant tax forms.
Your form will need to be accompanied by the correct fee, ie; currently £215. If you apply through a solicitor the fee is reduced to £155.
On receipt of your application the Probate Registry will respond, providing you with a copy of the oath you will need to swear. This oath is to confirm that the information you have provided is true to the best of your knowledge and belief. It can be sworn at your nearest Probate Registry or, alternatively, a solicitor’s office. The oath will also set out the legal requirements expected of you as the holder of the grant.
If the Probate Registry have no further queries, the grant of representation will be issued.
When applying for a grant of representation should I seek legal advice?
Whilst the question of how to apply for a grant of representation using form PA1 is relatively straightforward, it is often prudent to seek legal advice when you are responsible for administering an estate.
The cost implications of getting a grant of representation application wrong can be significant, particularly if the deceased’s estate is subject to inheritance tax. HMRC can also issue fines if incorrect information is provided.
The Probate Registry may indicate where an application is unsuitable to be dealt with as a personal application. As such, you will need to instruct a legal advisor to make the application on your behalf.
In circumstances where you opt to make the application yourself, you may still want advice on whether or not a grant of representation is even necessary. The law relating to issues such as joint ownership of property and tenancies in common can be complex.
A legal advisor specialising in wills and probate can assist you practically with dealing with the estate and answer any questions you may have on how to apply for a grant of representation using form PA1.