Changes to probate fees came into force on January 26, 2022 for England and Wales. This means applications for probate, which grants permission to deal with the estate of someone who has died, now costs a flat rate of £273, regardless of whether you apply direct, or choose a solicitor to process this. Previously the fee was £155 if a solicitor applied for you and £215 for direct applicants.
Given this uniform approach to fees, many bereaved families are left wondering whether they should tackle probate themselves.
Specialist probate solicitor and partner at Wilkin Chapman Solicitors, Leah Hanson, explains the risks of handling probate yourself and the reasons why choosing a professional is recommended.
“Applying for probate online may be seen as purely a tick box exercise which includes providing financial information about the deceased’s persons estate, but it doesn’t tell you how to administer the estate or about the risks of someone challenging a Will and your personal liability as an Executor.
The online system gives the individual applicant no information about how to ensure the financial information they have submitted is correct including how to trace the assets of the deceased or how you would advertise for unknown creditors of the estate. If you do not accurately declare the estate of the deceased, you may face penalties and interest charges from HMRC in respect of Inheritance Tax.
Even for the most straightforward estates there are still plenty of obstacles that can arise and things that can go wrong. As the Executor of an estate, you are held legally responsible for ensuring that the administration is carried out correctly.
In some cases, there may be dormant bank accounts that you are unaware of, or there is a bill or care home debt that needs paying which you don’t find out about until you have closed the bank account and distributed the money. As the Executor, you could become personally liable to repay that debt if the creditor cannot obtain repayment from the beneficiaries because you didn’t take adequate steps to ensure the full extent of the estate before you distributed.
For the potential risks that you are exposed to as an Executor during an already emotionally charged time, it’s worth speaking to a solicitor to offer you peace of mind and to take some of the burden off your shoulders. We can guide you through the process and because of our specialist knowledge can minimise the chances of something going wrong in the estate, such as the incorrect distribution or non-payment of a debt. Furthermore, we can discuss the professional options available to you that can provide personal protection should a claim against the estate be made. In addition, solicitors also have professional insurance in the unlikely event that any mistakes are made along the way.”
Not only should you consider seeking legal guidance to ensure a smoother process, but the loss of a loved one is difficult even without the added stress of having to deal with the deceased’s affairs during a time of grieving.
Leah continues, “Bereavement is hard enough and unfortunately death comes with paperwork. Acting as an Executor or Administrator can add unexpected pressure during this tough period.
It’s worth noting that solicitors also act as mediators between family members as dealing with probate for a loved one can be very tricky, especially when there is conflict within the family. By choosing to work with a solicitor it allows you to step out of the firing line in the event of dispute.
Of course, there are some circumstances in which probate won’t be necessary, however it’s always best to speak with a solicitor if it’s unclear.”
Leah has 14 years of probate experience and is STEP qualified (Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners). STEP members are internationally recognised as experts in their field after undergoing rigorous examinations to demonstrate their knowledge, passion, and commitment towards their specialist line of work.
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