After someone dies, the person who is responsible for settling their estate will often need to apply for the right to deal with it. The process is called “confirmation” in Scotland, named for the “certificate of confirmation” you (usually) apply for from the sheriff court.

Obtaining confirmation in Scotland is a little different to the equivalent process for getting a grant of probate in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, so it’s worth explaining in detail. Here’s what you need to know.


What is a certificate of confirmation?

Sometimes called a “grant of confirmation”, a certificate of confirmation is a legal document that proves that someone has the right to access the assets of a person who has died. This includes their bank accounts, stocks and shares and property records.

Without a certificate of confirmation, banks and insurance companies may refuse to release funds held in the name of the person who has died, especially for amounts over £5,000.

For this reason, you might need a certificate of confirmation to settle an estate in Scotland.

Not sure if you really need a certificate of confirmation? First, make sure that the estate includes money, assets or property held in Scotland. Then you’ll need to consider the size and complexity of the estate. Our guide on when probate is required can help you decide.


Who can apply for a certificate of confirmation?

If the person who died left a valid will, someone who is named as an executor in that will can apply for a certificate of confirmation.

If there’s no will, the will is invalid, or the executor is unable or unwilling to act, a close relative can ask the sheriff court for the right to administer the estate as an “executor-dative”. The order of preference here can vary (ask the staff at your local sheriff clerk’s office for advice) but is usually:

  1. The spouse or civil partner of the person who died
  2. One of their children
  3. A sibling or parent

With or without a will, the executor or executor-dative can ask a professional estate administration service or a solicitor to act on their behalf.


How and where to get a confirmation certificate

A certificate of confirmation is granted by the sheriff court. To apply, the executor of the estate will need to send them form C1 and:

  • Form C5(SE), if the estate is worth £30,000 or less.
  • Form C5, if no inheritance tax is due.
  • Form IHT400, if inheritance tax is due.

The best way to go about applying for confirmation in Scotland will depend a lot on the value of the estate, so your first task (if you’re the executor) is to calculate this. If the estate is worth £36,000 or less, it’s considered a small estate, and the process is a little easier.


Applying for confirmation with a small estate

To apply for a grant of confirmation in Scotland, the executor of the estate needs to put together a list of everything that the person who died owned. This is usually referred to as the inventory.

If the estate you’re settling is worth £36,000 or less, staff at the local sheriff clerk’s office can help you put together the inventory and walk you through your application for confirmation.

Your first step should be to find the sheriff clerk’s office closest to the place the person who has died lived (although your own local one will do if that is inconvenient). Then you just need to call them up and ask for a “small estate interview”.

You’ll need to bring the following things to the interview:

  • The will. Here’s how to find a will if you need help with this.
  • If there’s no will, documentation proving their marital status. For example, a marriage or civil partnership certificate. If the person who has died was divorced or separated from their civil partnership, you should bring the certificate proving this.
  • The death certificate. This would have been given to you when you registered the death.
  • Two items that prove your identity. For example, a valid passport or photocard driving licence and a current council tax statement or recent utility bill (not printed from the internet).
  • Court fees. While the sheriff clerk office won’t charge the executor of a small estate for the confirmation itself, they do charge for copies of the paperwork and so on. Some information is available here, but’s best to ask about the fees during the interview to be sure.
  • All the details of the estate and its value. This should list what is included in the estate and which organisations are holding those funds or assets. You can make sure you have everything using this small estate checklist.

You can get detailed advice on getting confirmation of an estate in Scotland in this small estates guide by the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service.


Applying for confirmation with a large estate

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service isn’t allowed to provide the same level of support with confirmation applications for large estates.

For this reason, they recommend that executors of estates worth more than £36,000 seek out legal advice, especially if there isn’t a will or if you’re not sure about any aspect of the application.

If you don’t use a professional estate administration service, you’ll need to gather together all the information needed to fill out the C1 and C5 or IHT400 forms yourself. You can find a helpful guide on filling out the C1 and C5 forms here, and another on the IHT400 form here.

Once you have completed the appropriate forms, you can bring them to the sheriff’s court in person or send them by post, along with all the documents mentioned above in the “small estates” section.

You can find more advice on getting confirmation of a large estate in Scotland on the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service website here.


Do you need a bond of caution?

If there is no will, you might need to get something called a bond of caution (pronounced kay-shun) from a guarantor in order to get confirmation. This document acts as insurance against someone obtaining confirmation in Scotland when they’re not actually entitled to do so, or failing to distribute assets as required by law.

With small estates, you do not need a bond of caution if you’re the spouse or civil partner of the person who has died and someone from the sheriff clerk’s office has helped you put together your inventory.


How long does it take to get confirmation in Scotland?

The whole process of applying for confirmation in Scotland, from starting to get the information together to actually receiving the certificate of confirmation, is likely to take around three months. It may take longer if the estate is especially complicated or if any part of the process is contested.

After C1 and the inheritance tax forms have been submitted along with fees and the accompanying documents, the certificate of confirmation should arrive within 10 working days. If the grant is declined, the sheriff clerk will say why in writing.

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