In some circumstances after a person dies, you need to apply for Letters of Administration rather than a Grant of Probate.
This largely boils down to whether or not the deceased left a will behind them. Yet there are other factors that govern when you might need to apply for that legal document more properly called a Grant of Letters of Administration.
This article looks at Letters Of Administration in detail to help you discover what you need to do next.
What Are Letters Of Administration?
Letters of Administration are documents that are issued by the Probate Registry in the UK that authorise you to act as the administrator for the estate of someone who has passed away.
They’re used in cases where it’s not possible for the executor to take on the role, often because they’ve died and sometimes because there weren’t any appointed in the first place, or because there is not a Will or a valid Will in place.
Do I Need Letters Of Administration?
You do not always need to apply for a Letter of Administration (more correctly, a “Grant of Letters of Administration) after someone dies. If they left a will, you – as one of the executors named in the will – need to apply for a Grant of Probate instead.
In addition to when there is a will, there are some other circumstances where you might not need to go through the application process:
- The estate is “small” (this is usually said to be less than £5000 or sometimes £10 000)
- All property is jointly owned and will pass to survivors automatically
If you are in any doubt, it’s always a good idea to seek professional advice from a solicitor or other specialist in probate law.
Even if you are successful in your application though, you won’t become the “executor” of the estate. Instead, you’ll become what is called the “administrator”.
What Is The Difference Between An Executor And An Administrator?
In some ways, there is very little difference between an executor and an administrator. Their responsibilities are much the same. They need to value an estate, make sure the correct Inheritance Tax is paid, and so on.
The major differences between the two positions are in how they are appointed and their guidelines when accomplishing their duties:
- An executor – is appointed in the will of the person who has passed away. They are empowered to follow the instructions and wishes set out in that will.
- An administrator – applies to administer the estate of a close relative who has died intestate (without a will). Because there is no will, there are no instructions to follow. The Rules of Intestacy (laws that govern what happens when someone dies without a will) may apply.
When Else Is An Application For Letters Of Administration Required?
In addition to when someone passes away without leaving a will behind, there are some other limited occasions when you might need to apply for Letters of Administration:
- Where there is a will, but it does not name any executors
- Where executors are named, but cannot fulfil the role (perhaps they have also passed away or have become incapable for some reason)
- Where the will has been lost or either it or a copy are deemed invalid for some reason
Who Can Apply For A Letter Of Administration?
If a will was left behind, the named executors must apply for a Grant of Probate. The Rules of Intestacy govern who can apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration instead.
There is a set order of priority for who should apply to become the administrator of an estate:
- The deceased’s spouse or civil partner (even if they were separated)
- The deceased’s children or grandchildren
- The parents of the deceased
- The siblings of the deceased, or their siblings’ children
- The half-brother or half-sister of the deceased, or their children
- The grandparents of the deceased
Following this, the list goes to aunts and uncles, the children of aunts and uncles, and then half-aunts and half-uncles and their children. Beyond that, the Crown becomes the administrator.
How To Apply For A Grant Of Letters Of Administration
If a close relative or loved one has died without a valid will or without executors to administer the will, you’ll need to decide who you’d like to be the administrator.
If you’re a surviving spouse or civil partner, this is most likely to be you, or if it’s a parent who has passed away and they weren’t married or in a civil partnership, this is likely to be you.
The process of applying for Letters of Administration is relatively simple. The job itself is much more onerous, so you should be sure you want to take it on before you apply. If you are, here is the process in a nutshell:
- Apply for Letters of Administration online – using the gov.uk website. You’ll note the section that confirms you are the most eligible relative. You need certain documents, such as a copy of the death certificate.
- Value the estate – this is often a key part of deciding whether you need to apply for Letters of Administration. The services of a professional valuer or probate specialist are fairly vital.
- Pay the necessary Inheritance Tax – before you receive either a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration you will need to pay the correct amount of Inheritance Tax (based on the value of the estate) to HMRC.
The best place to start is usually to consult a probate solicitor or other legal specialist and get some advice as to whether you need to apply for Letters of Administration. They can guide you through the often complex process of administering an estate. Or they can simply give you some starting advice to get you on the right track.
How Long Do Letters Of Administration Take?
When someone dies, a grant of probate is required to confirm that the executor of the will has the authority to administer the estate.
The process involves distributing assets to beneficiaries as outlined in their will as well as handling any affairs. Before you can do that, you need the legal authority to act for the deceased.
But if the executor of the estate cannot fulfil the role, whatever the reason, then a Letter of Administration is required.
There are many situations where a Letter of Administration might be required, such as:
- If no will has been made and the person has died intestate
- The will has been declared invalid
- No executors were named in the will
It might also be necessary to apply for a Letter of Administration if you are the sole beneficiary of the estate, since that wouldn’t require an executor who is not yourself to administer the estate.
The reality is that how long it takes will depend on the circumstances.
If it’s an estate where there’s no inheritance tax due and the process is straightforward, it could take as little as 3-5 weeks. But if there are complications or disputes over the estate, then it can take months or even years to resolve the situation.
The time it takes to get probate or letters of administration varies according to the circumstances. It may only take three to five weeks if there are no complications, inheritance tax is not payable, the estate is straightforward and all forms are filled in properly.
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