If you have been recently bereaved, you are executor of a will, and in the position of having to apply for probate, how do you know what to do? It’s a hugely emotional time for most people in this situation and having to organise and make decisions at such a difficult time can feel extremely overwhelming.
Applying for probate and distributing assets is a relatively straightforward process you can easily deal with yourself, especially if the will of the deceased is straightforward. However, you may decide at such a difficult time, using a solicitor is a worthwhile investment to ease the burden and for peace of mind.
Ultimately, you will need to decide whether you appoint a professional to carry out the probate process or do it yourself. We’ve put together a guide to help you understand what probate is, what it involves and in what circumstances it could be a good idea to use a probate solicitor.
What is probate?
Probate is the legal process you’ll need to follow to sort out the estate of someone who has died. This process may not be necessary if the estate is less than £15,000 or if the assets were held jointly and have been passed to a surviving spouse or civil partner.
If no will has been left you will need to apply for Letters of Administration. Letters of Administration are similar to a grant of probate, but are issued instead to the next of kin of an individual who dies without a will. It confirms the next of kin’s entitlement to manage the deceased’s estate.
What constitutes a person’s estate?
When someone dies all of their money, property and belongings (assets) are referred to as their estate. This will include:
- money in a bank or building society account
- property and land
- personal belongings, such as jewellery
- pensions that include a ‘lump sum’ payment on death
- life insurance policy pay outs
- jointly owned property, bank accounts or other assets
Liabilities include any monies the person owed when they died. This means household bills and any goods or services they had received that are not yet paid for.
Why do we need probate?
Probate is a process to prove to a court that the will is genuine. Most organisations such as banks, building societies, life assurance companies and so forth need to ensure they are paying over a deceased person’s money to the correct person. The Grant of Probate is the proof.
What you will need to do for probate
There are 3 steps to carrying out probate.
- Investigating the estate – you will need to gather all the information about the deceased’s assets and liabilities. You will have to contact banks, building societies, employers, insurance companies and any other relevant organisations in order to complete the forms in step 2.
- You are required to complete a tax return to the HM Revenue & Customs and also complete an application for probate form.
- Collect in the assets, pay any debts and distribute the remaining estate according to the will.
When should you seek the advice of a solicitor for probate?
Some people prefer to use a solicitor even in the simplest of cases of probate. Generally if the estate of a deceased person is straightforward and falls below the Inheritance Tax threshold, then managing the probate process yourself is reasonably easy and could save you hundreds of pounds.
However, shares, overseas property and trusts can make the valuation and subsequent distribution of an estate far from straightforward. Add in family disputes and conflicting codicils and you may want to seek professional advice from a reputable solicitor, such as George Ide. Generally it is definitely worth using a solicitor or accountant to manage the probate process if:
- The value of the estate is over the Inheritance Tax threshold, the estate is still earning a regular income and there are complicated taxes due.
- The deceased died without a will, and it’s a complicated estate.
- The deceased had dependents who were left out of the will, but who might want to make a claim on the estate.
- There are doubts about the validity of the will.
- The estate has complex arrangements, such as trust funds.
- The estate includes foreign property or foreign assets.
- The deceased resided outside the UK for tax purposes.
- The estate is bankrupt (insolvent).
How much will a probate solicitor cost?
The cost of using a solicitor varies considerably and can be high. Some solicitors charge an hourly rate for the time they spend working for you, while others charge a percentage of the estate (usually between 1 and 5 per cent). Solicitors’ fees will also have VAT added. Some solicitors charge an hourly rate and a percentage fee, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they will be more expensive.
There are also disbursement costs to be paid. These include:
- the probate application fee
- the cost of getting documents copied and verified
- valuation and conveyancing fees where the sale of property is involved
This article was written by Dakota Murphey.