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Can you carry out probate yourself?

will and probate

Navigating your way through the probate process can be daunting, especially when you’re grieving the death of a loved one. But with a little bit of guidance, you can do it without the need for a solicitor.

Appointing a probate solicitor can cost anywhere from £1,000 to £10,000, so it makes sense to do it yourself if you can.

There are, of course, some cases where it is advisable to instruct a solicitor to deal with the task, such as where there is inheritance tax (IHT) to pay, someone is looking to challenge the will or there are disputes between the executors and beneficiaries.

But in many instances, a little bit of guidance and some organisation is all you need.

What is probate?

Essentially, it’s the legal and financial processes involved in tying up the estate of a person who’s died.

If there’s a will, it’s the responsibility of the executor to deal with the process. If there is no will, the job will fall to the nearest relatives who are appointed as administrators.

If you’re an executor or an administrator and want to carry out the task yourself, read our step-by-step guide to DIY probate.

Ensuring a smooth ride

When I worked at a solicitor’s firm, my boss always used to ask clients whether the person they were choosing to be executor of their will was good at paperwork.

In my experience, organisation is everything when it comes to probate tasks. Probate isn’t necessarily a complicated job, but it does require attention to detail.

You should also take your time and do it properly. People are often in a hurry to complete the process and therefore miss things. It is particularly important to ensure that all debts are settled, especially in relation to any overpaid state benefits.

Don’t underestimate the emotional impact of dealing with a loved one’s affairs will have on you and those around you.

I recently dealt with probate for a close relative and despite having experience of dealing with probate issues in a professional capacity, I found it emotionally draining.

Make allowances for the behaviour of the other beneficiaries and executors, and for yourself. Remember that it’s OK to grieve during the process.

This should not put you off doing probate yourself, as it can often be more difficult having a stranger deal with the process – just don’t be alarmed when you feel more emotional then you expected.

Have you ever carried out probate tasks? What sort of problems did you encounter?

Comments
Guest
Carole says:
17 January 2017

I dealt with my husband’s probate in 2006. It took about 3 months & cost me (financially) very little but the emotional distress caused by incompetent financial institutions was huge.
As a company accountant I knew I was capable of doing it but was driven to do so after it took my mother’s solicitors 3 yrs & a huge (disputed) bill.

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Guest

Hi Carole, I’m sorry to hear that. It’s disappointing to hear that the whole situation was made worse by the companies you dealt with.

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Guest

My father was meticulous in keeping financial records. He assumed that my mother or I would use a solicitor because neither of us had much interest in finances, and left a list of questions to be passed on to the solicitor. I did the donkey work of compiling all the figures necessary, to minimise the costs and to learn about the process. The solicitor did struggle with some of the questions but eventually the process was completed, albeit at a considerable cost.

My mother died four years later and I felt confident about handling probate myself, having gained experience and this time there were no difficult questions to be answered. I filled in all the forms but then got cold feet and passed them to a solicitor, expecting a modest bill. That was not to be. 🙁 I wish I had had the confidence to do everything myself.

Guest
carole says:
17 January 2017

Wavechange
The reason I dealt with probate for my husband was because my mother’s solicitor charged a percentage of the value of her estate as well as per letter written/telephone call made etc. This I have been told is “normal” practice.

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Guest

It’s over ten years ago, Carole, and I cannot remember the details, but basing the charges on the value of the estate would explain why the solicitor charged a lot for handling my mother’s estate when I had done almost all the work. I was very fortunate in not having any problems with financial institutions.

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Guest

You dont bother about probate if you are poor , as the next of kin of my mother I was of coarse , liable for the funeral expenses .

Guest
Phil says:
17 January 2017

I handled the probate after my mother died and found it quite straightforward even though it took up a lot of time. There was the expected rows with a couple of financial companies and British Gas but nothing worth calling in a lawyer to deal with.

Am I right in thinking that their charges are based on the value of the estate rather than the amount of work involved?

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Guest

Ben says in the Intro “When I worked at a solicitor’s firm, my boss always used to ask clients whether the person they were choosing to be executor of their will was good at paperwork“. I regard this as a frightener to persuade the client to appoint the firm as the executor of their estate. I believe it is a better practice for the client to appoint a family member or competent friend [if suitable people are willing to act] as the executor with the recommendation that they then themselves instruct a solicitor to undertake the legal and financial work for which they have neither the skill nor experience. This means that the executor keeps an eye on the progress of the probate process and can authorise monthly bills or query them as they arise. As a second pair of eyes they might spot errors and omissions, wrong dates, misspelt names and addresses, etc, which can be troublesome to rectify subsequently. In my experience solicitors are far from infallible on the non-legal details. It also reminds the solicitor that they are under an obligation to the instructing executor and cannot just do it in their own way at their own pace without accountability other than to the wider group of beneficiaries who usually just stand back from the process and await their bequests.

Guest
Phil says:
18 January 2017

Like conveyancing this sort of work is usually dumped on the junior partner or the legal secretary.

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Guest

I handled the affairs of my mother-in-law on behalf of her children after she died. To finally get everything sorted out took not far short of a year and whilst not complicated (but a lot of work and time) it did require rigorous record keeping and organisation. Two reasons – one was to keep the transfer of assets properly controlled but the other, of which I was acutely aware, was to keep the family fully informed of progress and make the whole process transparent.

One of the initial difficulties was to deal with inheritance tax; no progress could be made until HMRC received their slice and as no assets could be liquidated this meant arranging a temporary substantial loan. I’d wish this were made easier – maybe a first charge on the estate once liquidation started to avoid the fairly significant, and unnecessary, costs involved.

Guest
john cracknell says:
18 January 2017

Ive done probate three times, father, father in law mother in law.
my tip get as many certified copies of probate (permission for you to act) as institutions you are dealing with.
thus in my case 10 copies for ten institutions, banks etc….with my fathers complicated affairs. you then dont have to wait for each institution to pass back to you the certiified copy, some banks etc…are incredibly slow and inefficient.

some institutions can be very condescending “oh so your not a solicitor”…..take it on the chin, your saving thousands.

Guest
Phil says:
18 January 2017

My advice would be to get a couple of spare copies of the certificate in case dimwit bank (you know who you are Santander) loses the first lot of paperwork.

Guest
David Long says:
18 January 2017

Providing there are no abnormal circumstances it is quite a straightforward process using online application forms. Make sure you read everything thoroughly though as missing any entitlements can lead you to pay more tax than you need to.

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Guest

I’ve done this three times for my parents and brother in law and although it takes a little time as long as you are organised (and preferably they were) it is not difficult. The book What to do when someone dies is useful too.

Guest
Clem Pitt says:
20 January 2017

Am I right in thinking if you have lasting power of attorney for a deceased’s finances and estate, and you are also executor of his/her will, the process of obtaining probate and executing the will is very much simpler, and quicker. Clem

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Guest

It certainly should be if the person with the power of attorney has been diligent and has all the information required to identify the assets and liabilities of the deceased. If the estate does not contain land, property or shares a grant of probate is not necessary either. But if the estate has any complexities and involves the HMRC then it will take time to deal with and there are no short cuts.

Guest
Alastair says:
22 February 2017

Having just been through this, I was told by my mothers solicitor that any power of attorney ceases when the person who it covers dies, though you are right that is makes the process much easier if you are also the executor

Guest
Alastair P says:
22 February 2017

Having just been through this, I was told by my mothers solicitor that any power of attorney ceases when the person who it covers dies, though you are right that is makes the process much easier if you are also the executor

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Guest

Even if the person who held the power of attorney is not also the executor or administrator of the estate it can still make the probate process much easier because the executor or administrator should have access to the necessary documents and financial information [provided the person with the power of attorney has been diligent, of course, and will cooperate with the executor or administrator]. I think it is a good idea when making a Will to make some provision if possible for the person who held power of attorney and for the executor(s) – unless they are professionals who will charge a fee to the estate. Just a modest bequest will relieve the burden and ease the process along.

Guest
Nigel Payne says:
20 January 2017

I have just finalised my mother’s estate, and your views on the lack of support from the banks ring true. I could write a book on my challenges with Lloyds……

One key learning I would strongly recommend to others who act as executors (glad I did), is that before you inform or allow the bank to close any accounts, that you make sure you download all the statements and history electronically. As soon as Lloyds closed the account it archives everything, all on line banking, and does not allow you any further electronic access. Found that out the hard way – they never tell you! They were willing to print out on a forest of paper seven years of account history and statements, but not electronically which makes searching for past transactions (gifts, charity etc.) much much harder. This was also despite me having a Power of Attorney!

Hope that this helps someone else?

Guest
Michael Ogden says:
20 January 2017

We didn’t act as executor for my late Aunt’s estate but the solicitor appointed in her will, had to contend with considerable difficulties caused mainly by the financial institutions but not exclusively
These were
1. The Royal Mail will not accept instructions from an executor until probate is granted, for redirection of mail. So frequent visits to the property had to be made by him for 6 months . Fortunately, it wasn’t far, but another chore.
2. Some financial institutions were very slow in confirming the valuation. Since 2007, when banks had their guarantee for deposits limited to £75,000, my aunt had money in 20 different financial institutions. One took 5 months, causing lots of letters to be sent.
3. Once the valuations were received, the solicitor proceeded to issue instructions to various banks to pay money direct to HMRC using IHT 423. However, several banks said they didn’t belong to that scheme and wanted instructions on their own form. More procrastination and letters.
4. The final solicitor cost was £8,000 which might sound a lot but I think, as an ex bank manager, now retired, I would have struggled with and been very stressful.
The sale of the house was not easy either, with buyers backing out etc, but eventually being sold.
5. The final twist related to share certificates which, during the process of probate, had been taken over. My aunt, had gone through a spate of mistrusting her broker, and requested shares be transferred into her name and the actual certificate sent to her. It took months to get that finally settled.
6. Finally, as beneficiaries, we discovered that income on the realised estate had to have tax accounted for, as tax still has to be collected after probate. My share was £1,000.

Guest
Peter Hunt says:
21 January 2017

Two years ago I dealt with the probate after my mother’s death. I had to deal with a number of financial institutions where she held savings and investments, but nonetheless received the grant of probate in less than three months after her death. It’s really not difficult, but as others have mentioned you have to be organised and keep careful records as you go along. The Probate Service helpline was also very good for the one or two queries that I had.

Guest
Paul Weston says:
22 January 2017

My mother died last year and my brother and I are co-executors. We have arranged probate ourselves.
Having completed and submitted the ‘list of assets’ the DWP has told us that my mother was overpaid pension credits. They say they are going to take the total value of the assets and backdate it to 2003 and recalculate from there.
We have no idea if this is accurate or fair. But is it standard practice?
A couple of notes. Neither I nor my brother stand to gain from these assets. My mother was as honest as the day was long and was an extremely frugal lady and a widow of some 40 years.
We do not know when these overpayments began or why. The DWP are being unhelpful when asked these questions.

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Guest

The DWP cant arbitrarily bill you unless they provide evidence unless we are living under “Hitlertarian ” Regime -are we ?

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Guest

I presume the recalculation by the DWP is designed to establish a true picture of the asset level and entitlements to credits year by year. That will constitute their evidence for the purpose of any reclaim.

In my experience the DWP do act fairly but you are entitled to see the calculations and their methodology, including their asset valuations and how they arrived at them, because all the figures will have to be adjusted for inflation and for any changes in thresholds and payment levels over the period. I expect they will have to produce a separate assessment for each tax year. If credits have indeed been overpaid the DWP are entitled to reclaim the amounts required from the estate. There should be an appeal process if you disagree with their assessments.

You are entering into complex territory here and you might find it beneficial to instruct a solicitor or an accountant to deal with this aspect of the estate. There could also be compensating reliefs that you are not aware of. It could be cost-effective if a successful challenge can be mounted professionally against the DWP’s assessment.

Guest
Paul Weston says:
24 January 2017

Any overpayment needs redressing. But the DWP approach does not seem to suggest they will take it on year by year calculations but rather as a finger in the air exercise based on illogical assumptions.

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Guest

If that is the case, Paul, it must be challenged on behalf of the estate and it could well be in te estate’s interests to instruct a professional who is able to stand up to the DWP. In my experience, though, the DWP does not do guesswork but maybe it seems like that.

Guest
Phil says:
25 January 2017

Just read Feb 2017 Which on probate. As far as I can tell, you haven’t explained that it isn’t always necessary, for an executor to go for probate e.g. when there is no house property. Raising awareness of this might save time and some heartache. I acted as executor for my late brother. His house automatically went to his ex-partner and was therefore out-with the calculation of the estate. Lloyds were fantastic: competent, emotionally literate, efficient. It probably helped that we shared the same bank. I will always be grateful to them.

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Guest

This point was mentioned here on 20 January 2017, Phil. It certainly saves a lot of hassle and some costs if it is not necessary to get a grant of representation. If the estate does not include land, property or shares then probate is not necessary. If there is property but it is held in joint names [for example a house or a savings account] then it passes to the surviving spouse or civil partner and probate is not required. Banks and other fund-holding institutions will require official copies of the death certificate before releasing money but will normally return them after registration so four or five copies might be sufficient as they can be sent on to other organisations like local authorities for changing the council tax status. I have found that a letter from the executor is usually all that is required to close store accounts [but any balances have to be paid-off first by the estate].

For the last family member for whom I acted as executor I had to close 22 accounts and cancel 36 subscriptions or regular mailings and I don’t think that was untypical. Sometimes several letters were required before action was taken so you need to be comfortable with correspondence and have a good supply of stamps.

Everything is easier where there is a Will, but for some reason many will not make one and the person dealing with the estate [the administrator] then has more of a struggle.

Guest
Edward Dymock says:
6 February 2017

Did you know that if a deceased person received a pension which was paid in advance and the amount “overpaid” for the remainder of the month after death was not reclaimed by the pension provider, then that “overpayment” should not be assessed to tax, even though it appeared on form P45 or P60, the argument being that pension cannot be deemed to accrue after death. Although it was on HMRC’s website where I had found this information in the first place, it needed a lot of persuasion before HMRC staff was convinced, since I could not find the reference again when I wanted it after the website had undergone some changes.

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Guest

Now thats good information Edward .

Guest
Rob jones says:
16 February 2017

Dealing with my father’s estate was easy until one member of the bereavement team at Halifax really messed it up. All was well until they told me everything was in hand and I just neded to wait. So wait we did. For a long time. I eventually rang them and they were actually waiting for me to go into a branch to complete the details. This may sound trivial but was hugely upsetting at a difficult time for us and could easily have been avoided

Guest
Alastair P says:
22 February 2017

This has been mentioned above, but just thought I’d re-state it as in my case Probate and IHT were non existent.

My parent died late last year. Other than the family home, they left very little. Savings were minimal and, though it was already in trust for myself and my brothers, the house had been signed over less than 7 years before death, so it still had to be included in the estate. We already had power of attorney and therefore had access to all the available accounts.

Having put all the details together into a spreadsheet, I calculated that the money owed for IHT was zero. I called the Probate Helpline to ask what I should fill in in this case. They said that, as the total value of the estate including the house, savings and PETs (Potentially Exempt Transfers) came to less than £325k, and because I already had full access to all assets, in fact I would not have to apply for Probate at all. They also said that I wouldn’t have to fill in any IHT forms (not even the shorter IHT205 form) as there was nothing to declare.

I thought that the Probate Helpline had been mistaken, but having double checked on the IHT Helpline, they also confirmed that I did not have to fill in any IHT forms due to the lack of Probate and the value of the estate.