“Probate” has a particular legal meaning but it is generally used within the English legal profession as a term to cover all procedures concerned with the Administration of a deceased person’s Estate, when they left a Will. A Grant of Probate simply proves the Will to be the last Will and Testament, and gives your named Executor/s the authority to collect in and distribute the Estate on your behalf.
If you die IntEstate (without a valid Will), then although the procedure is effectively the same, the required Grant is called a ‘Grant of Letters of Administration’ and is available to your nearest relatives based on those entitled to your Estate under the Laws of Intestacy. If an Estate has a value of less than £5000.00, or if all assets are held jointly and therefore pass by survivorship, for example to a surviving Spouse, a Grant will not usually be required.
The general public can apply to a local Probate Registry for a Grant themselves but most people use a Probate practitioner such as a Solicitor. If an Estate is small, some Banks and Building Societies will allow accounts to be closed by the deceased’s immediate family without a Grant.
The persons who are actually given the job of dealing with the deceased’s assets are called “Personal Representatives” or “PR’s”. If the deceased left a valid Will then the PR’s will be the “Executors” who are appointed by the Will. If there is no Will, or if the Will does not contain a valid appointment of Executors (for example if they are all dead), then the PR’s are called “Administrators”. So, Executors obtain a Grant of Probate which enables them to deal with the Estate and Administrators obtain a Grant of Administration, which enables them to do the same. Apart from that distinction the function of Executors and Administrators is exactly the same.
Certain property falls outside the Estate for administration purposes; the most common example being houses jointly owned, that pass by survivorship on the first death of a couple into the sole name of the survivor. Other examples include discretionary death benefits from pension funds, accounts with certain financial institutions subject to a nomination, and the proceeds of life insurance policies which have been written into Trust. Trust property will also frequently fall outside of the Estate but this will depend on the terms of the Trust.