Guide to Buying a House in Probate

Property search agents are often in the rare position of being alerted to local houses which may be offered for sale once probate is granted. However, high quality houses in probate can generate a sense of urgency among potential buyers who may need a steadying hand to guide them through the purchase of a probate property.

For those looking to buy a house in probate here is a guide from West Sussex property search agent Jennie Hancock on how probate works and the key points to be aware of.

What is probate?

Probate describes the administration of a deceased person’s estate following their death. Broadly speaking, it is the process that ensures the terms of their will are executed as written. If there is no will, a legal process is instigated to decide who benefits from the deceased‘s estate.
Applying for the legal right to deal with someone’s property, money and possessions (their ‘estate’) after their death is called “applying for probate”.

The difference between grant of probate and letters of administration

If the deceased left a will, a ‘grant of probate’ will be issued to the named executors of the will. Whereas if the deceased left no will, this is called “intestacy” and ‘letters of administration’ are received by the persons entitled under the laws of intestacy. The assets of a deceased person frequently include property. It is often the disposal of a probate property that gives the executors of the will the most work.

When is probate required?

Usually probate is required when a property forms part of the deceased’s estate but may not be required if it is jointly owned by a living spouse or partner who would automatically inherit the property.

Can I apply for probate myself?

Individuals can apply for probate themselves if they are an executor or an administrator and are in possession of the original death certificate. Alternatively, they can appoint a solicitor or probate expert to do so on their behalf. There is a probate application form PA1P to complete and there is a government Inheritance tax helpline to help you with the forms.

How long does it take for probate to be granted?

The grant of probate is usually issued within 4 weeks of receipt of the application documents. The entire probate process can take up to 6 months to complete but can be longer depending on the circumstances and complexity of the estate. The Inland Revenue can take as long as five months to process capital gains tax and inheritance tax so plans to dispose of assets should only be put in place once this has been calculated.

Can you clear a property before probate is granted?

It is possible to clear a property of possessions before probate is granted particularly if the property falls well below the inheritance tax threshold of £325,00. However, this is often a contentious issue with families where there is more than one beneficiary and legal advice should always be sought before commencing a house clearance.

Can I buy a house before probate is granted?

In certain circumstances a property may be sold before probate is granted. For example, if a surviving spouse or partner of the deceased is a joint owner and wishes to sell the property it can be sold in the usual way. However, if the deceased is the only name on the title deeds of the property, probate will be required before the property can be sold.

The property may of course be marketed, and a property purchase may proceed even as far as exchange in rare circumstances although the property purchase can only be completed once probate is secured.

Can I put a house on the market before probate is granted?

If a person dies without leaving a will, the executors will be unable to market any property until letters of administration have been issued.

However, some estate agents do not take the time to check the distinction between letters of administration and probate and will be willing to market the property if requested. But a sale will not be allowed to take place until letters of administration have been granted.

In order to avoid any complications arising during the sale, it is usually advisable to obtain probate before making any decisions regarding the marketing and sale of any property included in the estate. However, given the length of time it can take to secure probate it is often a good idea to obtain valuations and begin marketing the property beforehand, to allow the sale to take place quickly after probate has been granted.

How to buy a house in probate

The points above are only a guide to what to be aware of when buying a house in probate. The complex issues of probate require specialist legal knowledge and acute attention to detail. We recommend engaging the services of a specialist solicitor who is experienced in the field of probate and letters of administration.

Jennie Hancock of Property Acquisitions is often in an auspicious position to be alerted to probate property, having spent a lifetime dealing with property in the Chichester area. Jennie deals with local solicitors and agents handling estates on behalf of families as well as chartered accountants, and surveyors. She has an impressive network of valuable contacts with local professionals and agents that keep her well informed prior to houses coming onto the market, or probate being granted.

For Property Acquisitions’ clients it can be a great opportunity to learn about quality or rare homes ‘prior to probate’. A further advantage is that there is more time to consider a property, compared to the usual situation when a special house which may not have changed hands for 30 years is offered on the open market. Being at the front of the queue prior to probate is a huge advantage.

If you have any questions or would like advice on buying a probate property, please do not hesitate to telephone Jennie Hancock at Property Acquisitions on 07776 452128 or email her at