Do you need probate to sell a house if there is a will?

In the United Kingdom, the process of dealing with a deceased person’s estate, including selling a house, can be complex. This guide will provide a comprehensive overview of whether probate is needed to sell a house if there is a will, detailing the legal requirements, steps involved, and practical considerations.

Understanding Probate

Definition of Probate


  • Legal Process: Probate is the legal process by which a deceased person’s will is validated and their estate is administered.
  • Grant of Probate: This is a legal document issued by the Probate Registry that gives the executor the authority to deal with the deceased’s assets, including selling property.

When Probate Is Required

Property and Assets:

  • Ownership: Probate is generally required when the deceased owned property or significant assets solely in their name.
  • Value: Estates with assets above a certain value typically require probate, although this threshold can vary by financial institution.

The Role of the Will

Importance of the Will


  • Named in the Will: The will names an executor, who is responsible for managing and distributing the deceased’s estate.
  • Responsibilities: The executor’s duties include applying for probate, settling debts, paying taxes, and distributing assets according to the will.

Clarity and Direction:

  • Specific Instructions: A will provides clear instructions on how the deceased’s assets should be distributed, which can simplify the probate process.
  • Reduces Disputes: Having a will can help reduce disputes among beneficiaries and streamline the administration of the estate.

Applying for Probate

Steps to Obtain Probate

  1. Locate the Will:
    • Find the Original: Ensure you have the original will, as this is required for the probate application.
    • Read and Understand: Review the will to understand the deceased’s wishes and identify the named executor.
  2. Value the Estate:
    • Assets and Liabilities: Compile a list of all the deceased’s assets and liabilities, including property, bank accounts, investments, and debts.
    • Valuation: Obtain professional valuations for significant assets such as property.
  3. Complete Probate Application:
    • Forms: Complete the necessary probate forms, including PA1P (for estates with a will) and inheritance tax forms.
    • Submission: Submit the completed forms, the original will, and the death certificate to the Probate Registry.
  4. Pay Inheritance Tax:
    • Thresholds and Rates: Calculate any inheritance tax due based on the value of the estate. The current threshold (as of 2023) is £325,000.
    • Payment: Pay any inheritance tax due before the Grant of Probate is issued.
  5. Receive Grant of Probate:
    • Processing Time: The Probate Registry typically processes applications within 6 to 12 weeks, provided there are no complications.
    • Authority: Once granted, the executor has the legal authority to manage and distribute the estate.

Selling the House

Conditions for Selling Without Probate

Joint Ownership:

  • Joint Tenants: If the property was owned as joint tenants, ownership automatically passes to the surviving owner(s), and probate is not required to sell the property.
  • Tenants in Common: If the property was owned as tenants in common, probate is necessary to transfer or sell the deceased’s share of the property.

Small Estates:

  • Low-Value Estates: For low-value estates, some banks and financial institutions may release funds without probate. However, this is less likely with property, as it is usually a significant asset.

Selling with Probate


  • Executor’s Role: The executor, once granted probate, can proceed to sell the property as per the instructions in the will.
  • Estate Agent: Engage an estate agent to market and sell the property.
  • Legal Requirements: Ensure all legal documentation, including the Grant of Probate and property deeds, is in order.

Steps Involved:

  1. Valuation and Marketing:
    • Property Valuation: Obtain a professional valuation to set a realistic asking price.
    • Marketing: List the property for sale through an estate agent or online property portal.
  2. Offer and Acceptance:
    • Offers: Receive and review offers from potential buyers.
    • Acceptance: Accept a suitable offer and notify the buyer of the probate status.
  3. Conveyancing:
    • Solicitor: Engage a solicitor to handle the conveyancing process.
    • Documents: Provide the Grant of Probate, the will, and property deeds to the solicitor.
    • Contracts: Exchange contracts with the buyer and agree on a completion date.
  4. Completion:
    • Final Steps: Complete the sale and transfer the property to the new owner.
    • Distribution: Distribute the proceeds of the sale according to the will’s instructions, after paying any outstanding debts and taxes.

Practical Considerations

Financial and Tax Implications

Inheritance Tax:

  • Threshold and Rates: Inheritance tax is charged at 40% on estates above the £325,000 threshold.
  • Reliefs and Exemptions: Various reliefs and exemptions may apply, such as the residence nil-rate band.

Capital Gains Tax (CGT):

  • Applicability: CGT may apply if the property increases in value between the date of death and the date of sale.
  • Exemptions: If the property was the deceased’s main residence, some exemptions may apply.

Dealing with Beneficiaries


  • Transparency: Keep beneficiaries informed about the probate and sale process.
  • Expectations: Manage expectations regarding timelines and potential sale proceeds.


  • Resolution: Engage a mediator or seek legal advice if disputes arise among beneficiaries.
  • Fair Distribution: Ensure that the distribution of assets follows the will’s instructions and is fair to all beneficiaries.

Case Studies

Case Study 1: Simple Estate with Clear Will


  • John passes away, leaving a will that names his daughter, Emma, as the executor. The will clearly states that his house should be sold, and the proceeds divided equally among his three children.


  1. Probate Application: Emma applies for and obtains the Grant of Probate.
  2. Valuation: She gets the house valued and hires an estate agent.
  3. Marketing and Sale: The house is marketed and sold within three months.
  4. Distribution: After paying off any debts and taxes, Emma distributes the proceeds equally among her siblings.

Outcome: The process is smooth, and the estate is settled without disputes.

Case Study 2: Complex Estate with Disputes


  • Sarah dies, leaving a will that names her two sons, Mark and David, as co-executors. The will states that her house should be sold, but Mark wants to keep the house, while David wants to sell it.


  1. Probate Application: Mark and David apply for the Grant of Probate.
  2. Disagreements: Disputes arise over whether to sell the house.
  3. Mediation: They engage a mediator to help resolve the dispute.
  4. Agreement: They reach an agreement where Mark buys out David’s share of the property.
  5. Legal Transfer: The property is legally transferred to Mark, and David receives his share in cash.

Outcome: The mediation helps avoid a lengthy legal battle, and the estate is settled amicably.

Legal and Administrative Challenges

Intestacy and Missing Wills


  • No Will: If there is no will, the estate is distributed according to intestacy rules, which can complicate the process.
  • Hierarchy: Spouses and children have priority, but if there are none, other relatives may inherit.

Missing Wills:

  • Lost or Misplaced: If the will cannot be found, it may be necessary to prove its contents or apply as if there was no will.
  • Legal Advice: Seek legal advice to navigate the complexities of intestacy or a missing will.

Delays and Complications

Delays in Probate:

  • Complex Estates: Estates with multiple assets, international elements, or disputes can delay the probate process.
  • Inheritance Tax: Delays in calculating and paying inheritance tax can also hold up probate.


  • Debts: Outstanding debts, including mortgages, must be settled before distributing the estate.
  • Legal Disputes: Disputes among beneficiaries or challenges to the will can complicate the process.


In the UK, probate is generally required to sell a house if there is a will, unless the property is jointly owned as joint tenants or the estate is of low value. The probate process involves several steps, including obtaining the Grant of Probate, valuing the estate, and fulfilling legal and tax obligations. Executors play a crucial role in managing and distributing the estate according to the deceased’s wishes.

Understanding the legal framework, practical steps, and potential challenges can help ensure a smooth and efficient process. By seeking professional advice and maintaining open communication with beneficiaries, executors can navigate the complexities of probate and property sale, honouring the deceased’s wishes and ensuring a fair distribution of the estate.

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