DIY Probate: Why you should leave it to the experts
If you’re named as the executor of a will you will be faced with a range of tasks that you’ll need to carry out in order for the affairs of the deceased to be honoured. If the estate is relatively straightforward it might be tempting to handle the probate process yourself. DIY Probate is often touted as a means to save yourself considerable amounts of money. In reality, the process can often be surprisingly complex even where smaller estates are concerned.
Can you really complete probate yourself, how difficult is it, and what are the potential pitfalls?
Can I arrange probate myself?
It’s perfectly possible to arrange probate yourself without the help of a solicitor or legal expert, but an executor should think carefully before deciding to do so. There is a range of forms that need to be filled out in order to receive the grant of probate. If these are filled in incorrectly the Probate Registry can and, frequently do, reject them. If this happens, it can then cause considerable delay.
For this reason alone, most people will have legal support to help them complete the probate process. This may be simple, or comprehensive, but it helps to remove some of the stress and potential for error.
How difficult is it to do probate yourself?
As well as the forms to get the grant of probate, you will also be required to investigate the tax position and fill in forms for HMRC regardless of whether inheritance tax is due or not. If you fail to do this correctly and then not pay any tax due, you may face a significant penalty.
Probate also requires you to take care of significant administrative paperwork. This will include informing a range of different organisations that the deceased person has died. This will include pension providers, local authorities, banks and other financial institutions and utility companies
The executor will also be required to find out what debts are still liable, and then ensure they are paid from the estate’s assets. You may find yourself having to negotiate with several different creditors.
If an estate is complex the range of tasks involved in the probate process can be considerably more involved and onerous. In those instances, taking on probate yourself would be ill-advised.
How do you probate a will without a solicitor?
There are a number of different steps involved in completing the probate process. These include:
Check the will
Firstly, you’ll need to confirm that you are named as the executor in the will and are charged with administering the estate. If this is not something you wish to carry out it’s possible to decline the role by signing a Renunciation.
Pay funeral costs
Funerals will usually take place before a grant of probate has been applied for. In some cases, the deceased’s bank may pay out funeral expenses before the grant is obtained. Funeral directors may be willing to wait for payment until probate is granted. If this isn’t the case, then you may have to pay funeral costs upfront and then recover the money from the estate later.
Obtain the grant of probate
In order to execute the will, you will need to apply for a grant of probate. To do this you will first need to register the death and work out the value of the estate. When this is done, you’ll need to fill in a probate application form and inheritance tax forms. You’ll also be required to swear an executor’s oath at your nearest Probate Registry.
Pay inheritance tax
Once HMRC has accepted your submission any IHT that’s due on the estate will now need to be paid. A grant of probate won’t be issued until inheritance tax has been paid.
Gather in assets
Any assets that have been identified then need to be gathered in and distributed as directed by the instructions in the will. Once probate has been granted most banks and other financial institutions will release funds without any delay. You will need to provide them with a certified copy of the grant of probate in order to facilitate this.
Advertise in the Gazette
To ensure that you are not held personally liable for any unidentified debts a deceased estates notice should be placed in the Gazette. There are three editions of this published in London, Edinburgh and Belfast.
Prepare the final accounts
Final accounts will need to be prepared. These should set out all the money received and paid out. Beneficiaries should be asked to approve these accounts before they are distributed to minimise the risk of disputes once money has been distributed. The accounts and any associated paperwork should be retained for at least 12 years. This is the limitation period for any claim against the estate.
Distribute the assets
Once funds have been released you can then make appropriate payments to any beneficiaries and creditors. It’s important to ensure that you have identified all beneficiaries and creditors, have attempted to contact them, and have paid all estate debts and taxes.
Applying for probate without a solicitor
You can apply for probate online or by post once the estate has been valued. Before doing so it’s important to consider whether you are prepared to undertake the entire process yourself. Using the services of a solicitor can save executors a considerable amount of time and stress and are frequently less costly than expected.