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Guide to Probate and Property

Read our guide to probate, property involved and how to make sure it is insured.

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What is probate?

Probate is the process of dealing with the estate of somebody after their death, which typically involves clearing any debts and distributing whatever assets they have in accordance with their will. Often this will involve a property. 

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How does probate work?

The person who does the administration for probate is called the ‘executor’, and is often appointed in the deceased’s will. In most cases, the executor will be a family member or friend. You can be a joint executor with another person, and you may also be a beneficiary too.

If you’re the executor for someone, there’s a set of rules for how to notify the authorities and distribute the person’s estate. These include rules for how to settle someone’s affairs if they don’t have a will – officially known as dying intestate.

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What does the executor have to do?

An executor will need to apply for what’s called a ‘grant of probate’. It gives you legal authority to act for the deceased. You can apply for this yourself, or you can appoint a specialist probate solicitor to deal with the probate process for you.

If it’s your first experience of being of being an executor, and especially if you’re grieving a loved one, getting professional support can be a really good option, and their fees can be paid out of the estate.

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What’s involved in the probate process?

Once probate has been granted, you’ll be empowered to deal with all of the administration that goes with gathering and then distributing assets. That means doing things like contacting the deceased’s banks, notifying mortgage companies, the council, HMRC, Department for Work and Pensions, paying inheritance tax if any is owed, settling any outstanding bills or debts, tallying everything up, and then finding the beneficiaries and giving out what’s left at the end.

Depending on the size of estate and type of assets involved, probate can be either a relatively simple or quite complicated process.

One thing that does make things easier is the government’s Tell Us Once service, which means you can inform most key departments at once about the death. There’s also a step-by-step probate guide on the website, to help you make sense of everything, and a guide of what to do when someone dies.

You can also use the Law Society to find reputable probate solicitors in your area, and take advantage of NHS support after bereavement.

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How long does probate take?

Typically probate takes between six and nine months, but things can take more time – for instance if the estate is particularly complicated, or if the will is contested by anyone.

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What do I need to do about a probate property?

Many estates include a property, which will need to be valued. It’s worth getting this done by an estate agent, and obtaining quotes from two or three agents to get a really clear idea of what it’s worth.

You’ll need to decide as the executor whether you’re going to sell the property, live in it, or rent it out, and that’s likely to depend partly on the will and the rest of the estate, and whether you’ll need the proceeds of a sale to pay debts or fulfil bequests.

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Do I need probate house insurance?

While you’re sorting everything out, the deceased’s property may well be empty. An empty property faces different risks to an occupied property, and that’s where probate house insurance comes in.

You’re likely to need special cover if the property is still in the deceased’s name, or if it’s unoccupied for an extended period. Ordinary home insurance policies probably won’t cover you for more than 30 days of unoccupancy.

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Can I get probate house cover if the property isn’t in my name?

You’ll have to prove you have an ‘insurable interest’ in the property in order for probate house insurance to be provided. Once you’ve had your grant of probate confirmed, the policy can be issued in your name with any other beneficiaries named as additional policyholders.

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Why does it cost more to insure an empty property?

Empty properties face more risks than occupied properties. Even well-maintained properties can degrade quickly with no one on the spot to see problems – like leaks – and put a stop to them before they cause too much damage.

Vacant properties can also be at more risk of antisocial behaviour or burglary. Your insurer may ask that you inspect the property (or have an agent inspect it) every seven days, or that you install an alarm or upgrade locks.

Your premium will also vary depending on how long the property has been or will be empty. Usually after five years restrictions will start to apply – often reducing your cover to fire, lightening, earthquake and explosion only.

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Probate house insurance from Towergate

For more information on our probate house insurance, visit our dedicated page or call us on 0344 892 1750 to speak to a specialist adviser.

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About the author

Alison Wild Bcom Hons MAAT MATT Taxation Technician Commercial Tax Pensions Insurance And Marketing Specialist AuthorAlison Wild BCom (Hons), MAAT, MATT, Taxation Technician is a highly respected industry professional who has been working with and advising SMEs in areas including tax, pensions, insurance and marketing for over 25 years. She is a member of the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) and Association of Tax Technicians (ATT) and also has over 20 years' experience as a residential landlord.