Finding out the value of an estate after death
When someone dies, an executor named in the deceased person’s Will (or an administrator if no Will was written) will very often have to apply for a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration respectively, to be legally entitled to deal with a deceased person’s estate.
Prior to applying, an executor or administrator (both known as the Personal Representatives) will need to calculate and estimate the value of someone's estate to determine whether any Inheritance Tax (IHT) is payable to HMRC.
If the estimated probate value of an estate is less than £325,000, then no Inheritance Tax is payable.
However, whatever the probate valuation is and regardless of whether its value falls below the IHT threshold, you still need to report the value of an estate to HMRC as a matter of course.
Note: If the deceased was widowed or left their home to their children (including fostered, adopted or step-children), the IHT threshold can be higher than £325,000.
It's also worth noting that there are different rules for dealing with a deceased’s estate in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
What is a probate valuation?
A probate valuation typically means estimating the value of a dead person’s assets at the date of their death. This can include their:
- Property: the deceased’s home and any other property or land owned by them (including property abroad).
- House contents: furniture, antiques, works of art, china, silverware, electrical and white goods, etc.
- Registered business: only businesses registered at Companies House; not a business where the deceased was a sole proprietor or freelancer, etc.
- Vehicles: car, van, truck, lorry, motorbike, moped, mobility scooter and even a boat, caravan, aeroplane or a personalised number plate.
- Personal possessions: jewelry, designer clothing, shoes and accessories, mobile phone, collections, etc.
- Finances: money held in banks, building societies, ISAs or at home, any stocks and shares, premium bonds, life insurance (if not held in a trust) or a ‘death benefit’ payout from a pension, any money owed to the deceased such as refunds from domestic bills or an outstanding salary, and any of the deceased’s debts and liabilities*
- Digital assets: crypto-currency (like Bitcoin), digital gift cards, online gaming credits, domain names (especially if the deceased has a successful business), social media accounts (i.e. influencer accounts with lots of followers), graphic designs or digital artwork, intellectual property rights or copyrights
- Gifts: anything of a certain value the deceased gave to someone else including cash, property or personal possessions in the seven years prior to their death.
* If you’re dealing with an estate where someone died penniless with outstanding debts, you might want to read: What happens to credit card debt when someone dies? and What to do if you can’t afford a funeral.
How do you find someone's assets after death?
You will need to thoroughly check all of the deceased’s personal paperwork and bank statements to try and ascertain what they owned. If you think there may be additional ‘hidden assets’ that you cannot find paperwork for, you can pay for a professional asset search to try and locate these.
How to value personal property for probate
Before you start to estimate the value of the deceased’s personal property, you should compile a list of absolutely everything the deceased owned with any financial value.
Any assets of significant value will require professional valuations.
Land or house valuation for probate
Any land or property owned or part-owned by the deceased will need to be professionally valued.
Any jointly owned property automatically passes to the surviving property owner on the death of a joint owner and IHT is only payable on the property if the estate is worth more than £325,000.
For more details about property ownership and what can happen to a property you own when you die, check out our guides: Joint Tenants vs Tenants in Common and What is a Deed of Trust?
Can estate agents do probate valuations?
Yes, it’s recommended that you obtain at least three estate agent probate valuations for the ‘open market’ value of a property at the date of death rather than a ‘probate valuation’. You should then use an average of the three valuations as the estimated property value.
However, if you estimate the whole of the deceased’s estate is going to be worth more than £325,000 (the IHT threshold), then you should arrange for a formal valuation by a RICS surveyor.
Probate value vs market value
Historically, personal representatives would ask estate agents for a probate valuation but because such valuations were typically 10% less than the ‘open market’ value, this way of requesting a valuation has been scrapped. So you should ask for an ‘open market’ valuation from an estate agent or surveyor.
How much does a probate valuation cost?
As far as the deceased’s property is concerned, some estate agents may supply a valuation free of charge, but many now charge a fee which they then offer to deduct from their commission if they successfully sell the property.
A RICS surveyor’s probate valuation fee usually costs more than an estate agent’s valuation and can be £400 or more. Depending on what the property and its contents are estimated to be worth, there could potentially be two separate fees: one for the valuation of a property and one for a valuation of its contents.
Furniture valuation (and house contents)
If the furniture and any other house contents are estimated as being worth less than £1,500, then you do not need a formal valuation of them.
You can search for the value of used furniture and any other major, valuable property contents on the internet to roughly gauge and estimate their value.
If the expected value of the deceased’s house contents (including any antiques, collectables, pictures, etc) is in excess of £1,500, then you will need to obtain a RICS professional valuation of any such items and separately list them on the IHT 400 (the form you need to complete and submit to HMRC to confirm whether any Inheritance Tax is payable).
Because a vehicle is a chattel, you are permitted to sell a vehicle before obtaining probate and use the sale price as the valuation.
Take a look at webuyanycar.com’s bereavement car selling matrix to find out what documentation you will need if you want to sell the car and use their free valuation tool to gauge the value of a car.
If there’s outstanding finance on a car, you must contact the finance company to notify them of the death - they may wish to take the vehicle and sell it at auction or arrange for you to take over the payments until it is sold.
HMRC will usually require sight of the last three years' accounts up to the date of death. In certain circumstances, it may be necessary to employ a specialist accountant to audit the company’s accounts. Co-op Legal Services provides more detailed information about ‘how probate works for business assets’ on their website.
Valuing personal possessions for probate
Any personal possessions with an estimated value of £500 or more will need a professional valuation. You can easily find niche valuers (i.e. antiques or fine art valuations) by searching the internet.
Probate valuation of jewellery
If you think any or all of the deceased’s jewellery could be worth more than £500 then you should arrange for a professional valuation of the same. Many jewellery shops provide or can arrange professional jewellery valuations.
Note: Any jewellery worth over £1,500 needs to be listed separately on the IHT 400 form.
Valuation of financial assets
An executor or administrator will need to write to any business or person that holds financial assets owned by the deceased or to any person or business the deceased owed money to requesting the value of those assets or debts as at the date of the death.
Valuation of digital assets
Most digital assets like email accounts, digital files and music will have little or no monetary value.
If the deceased has any digital assets you think could have significant monetary value, then you should arrange for a professional valuation of the same or ask a solicitor to do this for you.
Familylaw.co.uk provides more in-depth information about digital assets and estate planning on their website.
Certain gifts (property, possessions or money) will be subject to IHT if they were gifted in the seven years prior to someone’s death.
No IHT is payable on gifts to a spouse or civil partner.
To find out what counts as a gift for IHT purposes, visit the www.gov.uk/inheritance-tax/gifts.
How to report the estate value
It will be the personal representatives’ responsibility to report the value of an estate to HMRC. Where probate is complex and/or the estate exceeds the Inheritance Tax threshold, this will typically be dealt with by a Probate Solicitor who prepared the deceased’s Will (if they had one).
Dealing with an estate after death can be a laborious, time-consuming and complicated task, but if you feel confident that you can administer the estate yourself and accurately estimate its value, you can report the estate’s value to HMRC online.
If you feel a little out of your depth, haven’t the spare time or just don’t want the hassle of dealing with an estate, then you should instruct a Probate Solicitor who will oversee everything for you. If there are sufficient funds, their fees will be settled from the deceased’s estate.