One of the biggest questions that come up when someone passes on is whether their family needs to engage a solicitor to carry out probate.
People complain that solicitors can be expensive, slow and frankly not overly responsive to personal customers.
The truth is that you don’t need a solicitor to carry out probate and if you have a very simple estate then this can be a pretty straightforward matter.
It is possible to apply for probate yourself and even with more complex estates, you can use the services of an expert to help you with the more difficult aspects and do the simple admin side personally.
We can’t, of course, give you any advice as everyone’s situation is different but this guide is designed to give you a crash course in probate for England and Wales.
We’ll run you through the main aspects and give you the facts you need to decide whether you want to engage a solicitor or go for the DIY probate option.
Do I need to apply for probate?
This is the first question you need to answer – do I need to apply for probate?
If you want to deal with the affairs of a deceased person then you need to have the legal right to do so.
If the deceased had made a Will then you would need to apply for what is known as a ‘Grant of Probate’.
If they died without a Will then you must apply for ‘Letters of Representation’.
You’ll need one of the two methods to deal with most organisations on behalf of the estate and so, in general, you’ll need to apply unless the estate was very small (under around £5,000) in which case you may not need it.
A word of caution here, banks, building societies, insurance companies, in fact, any organisation in the UK can set their own rules – and they do!
This means that getting probate or letters may not be required for a person’s current account but you may need it for their building society account.
So don’t assume that because you have a small estate you can get away without applying for probate. It changes on a case by case basis although you won’t need probate if it turns out that the estate has more liabilities than debts (insolvent).
It’s also as well to remember that a Grant of Probate and Letters of Administration tend to commonly both be known as ‘probate’ by many people as they carry out the same function.
To all intents and purposes for an estate of any reasonable size, and certainly for an estate that includes property you will need to obtain probate.
Who can apply for probate?
For people who die with a valid Will in place then this will be done by their named executor or executors.
They don’t need to be a solicitor or have any qualifications at all to do this.
For people who die without a Will then the situation can get a little more complex.
Often Letters of administration will be applied for by the next of kin or a close family member. This could cause friction within the family and sometimes people choose to ask a close friend who is trustworthy but less emotionally involved to act.
And of course, you can use a specialist probate company or your family solicitor to act for you but naturally, there will be a cost to this.
Applying for a grant of probate
Applying for a grant of probate isn’t necessarily difficult but it does require you to be methodical and organized and you shouldn’t expect it to be a quick process. Getting probate can take several weeks.
The bulk of the work actually takes place before you apply as you will need to collect together the assets and debts of the estate, get valuations on some items and assess and pay any inheritance tax due before you can even put in your probate application.
There’s no set format for all of this. It really is a case of being organised and making sure that you find all of the assets and liabilities.
You’ll need to include any financial assets such as bank accounts, savings, shares and other investments and you will also have to make sure you have accounted for all debts due.
It’s a smart move to make sure that more debts won’t be incurred in the meantime so closing down utility, TV and phone accounts and returning things that are on rental is a good move.
To obtain a grant of probate you’ll need to have a pretty accurate picture of what the estate is worth and so you may also need to get a valuation on any property that you will have to sell later and we can certainly help in this area.
Don’t worry if the eventual sale price is a little different, this is understood within the probate process.
Paying the inheritance tax
For the majority of estates within the UK, there won’t be any inheritance tax (commonly known as IHT) payable but even if you think that is the case you still need to do the sums.
Tax is payable on the net estate and so it’s a simple deduction of liabilities from assets but there are some quirks that you need to be aware of and it might be a smart move to have a chat with an accountant who specialises in Inheritance Tax.
For example, there is no tax payable for bequests between spouses and there is an extra tax allowance for residential property.
It’s always a good idea for people to plan for inheritance tax purposes and if this has been done then you are in a better position in terms of probate as much of the work will have been completed and you may only have to update some figures.
The process of obtaining a grant of probate can’t continue until you have a letter from HMRC stating that the IHT has been paid or that there is no tax to pay and this will need to be included in the probate application process.
Applying for probate online
The UK government has made great strides in recent years in making as many services as they can available online and probate is no exception.
Probably the most effective method for applying for probate is to go online and it tends to be safer and a little quicker. You can find the probate registry application page here .https://www.gov.uk/applying-for-probate/apply-for-probate
You’ll need to have everything in place so do use the help worksheets and of course, make sure you have a copy of the will, a full inventory of the estate with any valuation and your IHT evidence.
Applying for probate by post
If you’d prefer not to apply for probate online you can always use the postal service.
As you would expect there is a grant of probate form that needs to be completed but it is not overly difficult.
There are two different grant of probate forms depending upon whether you are wanting to apply for probate or letters of administration.
If there is a Will then you will apply for probate using probate application form PA1P.
Alternatively, fill in application form PA1A if there is not a Will and you want to apply for letters of administration.
You can download probate form PA1P here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/form-pa1p-apply-for-probate-the-deceased-had-a-will
You’ll need to pay for the service either before sending in your probate form by calling your local district probate registry and paying by card, or by including a cheque in your application.
How much does a grant of probate cost?
The probate fees vary depending upon the size of the estate.
If the estate has a net worth of less than £5,000 then the service is free.
If the estate is worth more than £5,000 then there is a fee payable of £215.
But for practical purposes, you should also consider getting more copies of the grant at a cost of £1.50 each.
This means that you can send original copies (which are required by some organisations) rather than your own photocopies and for the small extra charge this is worth it and could speed up the probate process considerably.
You can run the probate process yourself
We hope you have seen that it is possible to run the probate process yourself, especially if you are dealing with a small and uncomplicated estate.
The forms required to obtain a grant of probate are in plain English and you can even complete them online.
All you need to remember is to be organised and methodical and you’ll find that obtaining a grant of probate isn’t so difficult after all.
How Smart Property can help
We specialise in helping executors sell properties quickly and easily.
Our no-fee service gets you a great price for very little effort and is especially handy when you are dealing with probate and the many things that go with it.
We’ll also help if you need an outline valuation before you apply for probate.
Contact us now and let’s talk about how we can help.