A person’s will is a written declaration of how they wish certain matters to be dealt with after their death.

A will can sometimes contain many different instructions, from how an individual would like their funeral to be arranged, to who will inherit money or things, to who will look after any children.

It is important to find out as soon as possible if someone who has died suddenly left a will.

Copies of wills may be held by a bank or solicitor or may have been deposited with a special will storage service, or the Probate Service.


Probate is the process of carrying out the wishes expressed in someone’s will and/or settling their estate. Their estate is everything they owned, including investments, savings, pensions and possessions.

The will provides instructions on how their estate should be distributed and who is to receive what.

The executor or executors (a person or people) named in the will are responsible for administering the dead person’s estate. Executors can be family members and friends, or professionals such as solicitors.

The process of settling someone’s estate can sometimes be complicated. It involves telling different people that the person has died. This requires certified copies of their death certificate. It includes telling:

  • relevant financial institutions (such as banks, building societies, pension companies)
  • government departments (such as a council, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the Passport Office and the Department for Work and Pensions)
  • service suppliers (such as utility companies).

The executor(s) are also responsible for:

  • settling any bills
  • paying any inheritance tax that may be owed
  • distributing remaining assets (money and things)

Administering a will

The executor/s can choose to administer someone’s will themselves, even if they are not legally-qualified. This may be straightforward if the deceased’s estate is not complex, or if their estate is worth less than £10,000, or if they owned everything jointly.

Otherwise, they may need to obtain the legal authority to do so.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland this is called a grant of probate.

In Scotland this is called a grant of confirmation.

However, wills and probate can be complicated and appointing a solicitor can be helpful, or essential in some cases.