Probate is the legal process that you have to go through before you can deal with a person’s assets after they die. It is possible to deal with probate yourself, and when a will is simple and the person dealing with it is confident with the probate process and various requirements from HMRC, it can be straightforward. However, we are often contacted by people when things have gone wrong.
There are eight main steps to a probate application, as outlined by HMRC:
- Check if there’s a will. There’s a different process if there’s no will
- Value the estate and report it to HMRC
- Pay any Inheritance Tax that’s due
- Apply for probate
- Collect the estate’s assets, for example money from the sale of the person’s property
- Pay off any debts, for example unpaid utilities bills
- Keep a record (‘estate accounts’) of how any property, money or possessions will be split
- Pass the estate (‘distribute the assets’) on to the people named in the will (‘beneficiaries’)
Not all estates require a grant of probate, it may not be necessary if the deceased’s estate was worth less than £15,000 or if their assets were held jointly and are passing to a surviving spouse or civil partner.
In recent years we have seen an increase in the number of people dealing with their own probate application. Here are some things to consider before deciding whether or not to use a solicitor.
Grief – You and your family are likely to be grieving over the loss of a loved one. Sometimes it can help to have something else to focus on, and grief affects people in different ways, but very often we find that people find it easier to hand over the probate process to a professional.
Cost – A ‘diy’ probate application can save you money. But if anything unexpected happens it could end up costing a lot more. Handing over to a solicitor half way through an application could end up more expensive than if you had instructed them in the first instance. The probate fee is also more expensive if you do it yourself.
Time – Probate applications which are conducted by a solicitor are usually dealt with more quickly. Complicated wills can take longer and we would highly recommend engaging a solicitor from the outset if you feel there may be complications.
Legal procedures – Some of the procedures can be complicated. Your lawyer will have done this hundreds of times before, but if it’s new to you, aspects of the probate process can be complicated and confusing.
Responsibility – If you decide to carry out your own probate application it’s important to remember that you could be held financially and legally liable for any mistakes that you make. If you decide to go it alone, make sure you feel confident you can fulfil all the requirements.