What is Probate?

What is the definition of Probate and how does Probate work?


Probate occurs after someone has died and is the process of proving that the deceased person’s Will is valid and then giving the deceased’s Personal Representatives the right to deal with their assets and estate.  

How does Probate work?

Probate works slightly differently depending on whether the deceased person left a Will or not. The process is different, but the end result is the same – the executors (where there is a Will) or administrators (where there is no Will) are given the authority to deal with the estate.

Wills and Probate

Whether or not the deceased person left a Will can have a substantial impact on completing Probate. Wills are used to appoint executors, set out wishes in relation to funeral plans, guardians for children, distribution of property. For more information on why you should make a Will and the effect it has on Probate please see our page 'Wills and Probate', and the further guidance below.

Probate of a Will

If the deceased person left a Will, they will have named one or more people in the Will to act as their executors. The executors will need to apply to the Probate Registry for a Grant of Probate (unless the estate does not require a grant to be administered). The Grant of Probate is a legal document which will enable the executors to deal with the assets and estate. They can use it to demonstrate that they have authority to collect the deceased person’s property, money and possessions and distribute them as set out in the Will.

Probate where there is no Will 

If the deceased person did not leave a Will or it is invalid for some reason, the law sets out how the Probate process works and who is entitled to administer the deceased person’s estate. There is a set order of people who can do this, beginning with the deceased person’s:

  • Husband, wife or civil partner
  • Children (if 18 or over) or grandchildren (if 18 or over) if their parent died before the deceased person
  • Parents
  • Brothers and sisters
  • Other family members

The people entitled to administer the deceased person’s estate where there is no Will are called administrators. The administrators can apply to the Probate Registry for a Grant of Representation (usually a Grant of Letters of Administration). This, like a Grant of Probate, is a legal document which will enable the administrators to deal with the deceased person's assets and distribute them to the people entitled to them under law. 

Probate search

The Government provides a Probate search service which allows you to search for any Grants of Representation since 1996. When someone dies their Will becomes a public document, as does the Grant of Representation (the legal document which enables executors or administrators to deal with the deceased person's assets. For more information about how to make use of this service see our related page 'Probate search'.

  • Probate search

    It is possible to obtain a copy of a will or grant of representation

  • Wills and probate

    Making a will can help your personal representatives deal with the probate process efficiently