Thinking of doing probate yourself? About a third of all executors do. After all, applying for a grant of probate without a solicitor or specialist can save you a lot of money. And taking charge of the job yourself may well mean less waiting around. But DIY probate does come with drawbacks. The estate administration process can be long and complicated, especially for someone who’s new to the delights of extensive paperwork. Plus, if you make a mistake, you’re legally – and financially – liable.

So, is the do-it-yourself probate approach right for you? How do you go about dealing with probate without a solicitor or specialist help? Our ultimate DIY probate guide is here to help.

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Need a hand? Call us for free on 0800 054 9896 to talk to one of our probate advisors.

 

What do we mean by DIY probate, exactly?

When someone dies, their estate needs to be dealt with. Everything that belonged to them – their money, property, shares, assets and all – is gathered up, used to pay off any debts and given away to the right people. This process is often called estate administration, or probate.

Why probate? Before you can deal with an estate, you might need something called a grant of representation. This is a legal document that can be used to prove you have the right to settle the estate of someone who has died.

There are two types of grant:

  • A grant of probate, applied for by the executor if the person who died left a will
  • A letter of administration, applied for by a close family member (the ‘administrator’) if there isn’t a will

Many banks and other financial organisations need to be shown the grant of representation before they’ll allow access to any accounts belonging to someone who has died. As such, applying for a grant of probate is often the first step in dealing with an estate.

After you have it, you can:

  • Gather up all the funds, shares and other assets that make up the estate
  • Calculate and pay any inheritance tax due
  • Sell property belonging to the person who has died (if needed)
  • Pay off all their debts and bills
  • Set up trusts according to the wishes in the will
  • Transfer the estate to the people who are due to inherit (beneficiaries)
  • Give those beneficiaries a final, detailed account of the estate

Do you really need a grant of probate or letter of administration to settle the estate? Our guide here can help you out.

 

Interested in doing probate yourself? Here’s what you need to know

If you are the executor or the administrator of an estate, you’ll need to decide whether to ask a professional probate specialist to act on your behalf. If you’re considering the DIY probate route, there are a few things you need to know:

 

You can save a lot of money by doing probate yourself in the UK

A standard UK solicitor will charge between 1% and 5% of the total estate, while fixed-fee probate specialists tend to charge between £650 and £6,500. This generally depends on the provider and how much work needs to be done. Banks typically charge more (about 5%) and should be avoided.

That’s not to say that do-it-yourself probate in the UK costs nothing. Up until the rules change this April (2019), you’ll have to pay £215 as part of your application for a grant of representation. But when you consider that a solicitor might charge £25,000 on a £500,000 estate (say your parents had a flat in London) then the savings could be substantial.

 

DIY probate takes a lot of work, however

Even in simple cases, 37% of executors and administrators spend more than 50 hours on obtaining probate without a solicitor or probate specialist. Another 31% take between 21 and 50 hours. The entire estate administration process lasts between nine and twelve months on average. This can be a big time commitment, especially if you have a day job and a grieving family to look after.

The paperwork involved in handling an estate is extensive. If you choose to take the task on, it’s important to be extremely organised. We recommend starting out by investing in plenty of binders and notebooks to keep track of everything, and to invest in a DIY probate kit if you’ve never settled an estate before – mistakes can be costly.

 

You can’t always manage probate without a solicitor or a specialist

DIY probate can be straightforward if the person who has died had a simple estate. But in some cases, it’s best to call on a probate specialist to make sure everything is done properly.

 

So, when do you need a solicitor for probate? Situations where professional help is needed include when:

  • There’s a lot of inheritance tax to pay and you’d like to make sure it’s the right amount
  • The estate includes property, money or assets held abroad
  • There’s no will and the estate is going to be very complicated to deal with
  • The person was living abroad when they died
  • There’s a chance that the will might not be valid
  • Certain family members were left out of the will and they’re likely to contest it
  • The person who died owned their own business
  • They were secretive about their finances, or a bad record keeper
  • The will includes a lot of complicated instructions
  • There’s a chance that the estate is bankrupt
  • Trusts need to be set up (e.g. for beneficiaries who are under 18)

 

There are personal reasons to avoid the DIY probate option, too:

  • Your relationship with the beneficiaries is bad and you’d like to avoid accusations of bias
  • Some beneficiaries are impatient for the estate to be settled and you don’t want to be hassled
  • You don’t want to be liable if a mistake is made
  • The will is open to interpretation and you’d like to leave it to someone unrelated to make the final call
  • You don’t have the time to dedicate to the paperwork
  • There are other executors and you’re worried about disputes between you

 

How liable are you for a mistake made during DIY probate?

As the executor or administrator of an estate, you are legally and financially liable for any mistakes you make, even if they’re completely unintentional.

For example, if you don’t pay off all the debts owed by the person who died before you give their money out to beneficiaries, those funds will be taken from your accounts – they can’t be claimed back from beneficiaries once they’ve been passed over. The same goes if you underpay inheritance tax. If you hire a professional, you can usually pass this liability on to them, protecting yourself.

 

DIY probate can be rewarding

If none of the above exceptions apply and you’re keen to try applying for probate without a solicitor or specialist, there are benefits aside from money. Some executors and administrators find it rewarding to make their loved one’s last wishes a reality. It can also be a welcome distraction from the burden of grief.

 

I want to try DIY probate

Only you can decide whether you’ll find DIY probate worthwhile or stressful. If you do want to go ahead, you’re not alone: our probate guides are here to walk you through how to do probate yourself from beginning to end. You might like to start with ‘What is probate?’

 

…I’d rather work with a probate specialist

There are different degrees of professional help with probate. You can just get help with the tricky paperwork involved in getting a grant of representation, or you can get help with the whole process, right up until the last penny is handed over to a beneficiary and all the pets are rehomed.

Here at Beyond, we’ve helped thousands of families settle their loved one’s estates. We offer free advice and a range of probate services starting at £650. Call us on 0800 054 9896 to talk to one of our advisors today.

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