The simple answer is yes, DIY probate is entirely legal and possible. There is no legal reason why you must have a solicitor to conduct the probate of an estate. However, that’s like a lot of areas of law –conveyancing for example – where you don’t legally need a solicitor, but few people, if anyone, actually attempt to do it on their own. Why? Because probate is both complicated and risky.
However, sometimes with a particularly simple estate, where there is little or no money or other assets involved, and it can make sense to handle probate yourself without a solicitor – provided you’re happy to do so and confident in your ability to get everything done efficiently and promptly.
But what is probate?
Probate is the legal and financial process required to deal with assets of someone who has died – and this includes a variety of property, which may include cash, shares, investments, businesses, property and possessions.
How common is DIY probate?
Recent figures from the Ministry of Justice figures show that between April and June 2021, 41% of applications for Grants of Representation were personal applications, made by individuals who were not using a solicitor for their estate administration. That’s up from 36% back in 2012.
That’s a huge number of people who’ve decided to take the DIY approach and take on an enormously complex area of law for themselves, without the help of a specialist lawyer.
However it does mean that in 2021 the remaining applications for probate – a full 59% – were, in fact, still made through probate solicitors.
Worried about handling probate yourself? Why take risks? Call our specialist probate solicitors on FREEPHONE 0800 1404544 for FREE initial phone advice – with no strings attached.
The 6 stages of probate – what you or your probate solicitor will need to do
Stage 1: identifying all of the deceased’s assets as well as all of their debts, unpaid bills and loans and other liabilities (debts ranging from loans to utility bills), to determine the value of their estate.
Stage 2: confirming the beneficiaries the estate, set out either in the will, or in the event there was not a will, under what are known as the rules of intestacy
Stage 3: collecting in or selling all of the deceased’s assets, and paying their liabilities,
Stage 4: calculating and paying any Inheritance Tax, Income Tax or Capital Gains Tax to the taxman
Stage 5: preparing estate accounts. Then you will need set out all monies coming in and out of the estate.
Stage 6: transferring any assets to the beneficiaries (which may involve conveyancing of property, for example) and then distributing the balance the estate to the beneficiaries.
But there are plenty of reasons why you might feel uncomfortable with the DIY approach and decide that you do need a solicitor for probate
Click here to read more about probate and how our Probate Solicitors can help you
The most common problems with DIY probate
Doing it yourself can be a very dangerous approach to probate.
What’s interesting is that there are a number of common errors and misconceptions that crop up again and again with DIY probate applications. And the fact that the same costly errors keep being made, shows that this is not an area of law which should be tackled by someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing.
But what are the most common problems with DIY probate?
• Failing to completely collect estate monies — in some cases this is relatively simple, particularly where the executor was very thorough in record-keeping or where there were few assets. But problems can emerge where issues are complex or records incomplete and messy. It’s surprisingly easy for an executor to fail to identify and collect in all monies due to the estate – and these can include debts, and old dormant accounts for example
• Distributing the estate — often the problem can stem from a badly drafted will. It is particularly easy for a DIY will to be misunderstood, and it’s surprisingly common for these applications to end up with large amounts of money being paid to the wrong people.
• Tax affairs — getting the tax position exactly right is often most important part of probate. Particularly when it comes to medium sized or larger estates, paying the right tax and making sure that you claim all eligible reliefs and exemptions is not something which is easily done by someone without good solid experience.
• Probate Disputes — If someone disputes the will, or perhaps makes an inheritance act claim how should that be dealt with? It is often considerably easier for someone to successfully challenge a DIY will, as it is more likely to be written in a way which leaves loopholes that can easily be challenged. Ignorance of the law is no defence, and DIY Wills or DIY probate (or worse still a combination of the two) could leave this your estate wide open to abuse. what’s worse, it isn’t always crystal clear from day one that there is going to be an inheritance claim. That could take an analysis of the will in relation to the size of the estate and the family of the deceased.
Appointing a solicitor as a completely independent executor to administer the estate is normally a very sensible move indeed when there is any suggestion of inheritance claim or contested will – and especially where the original executor is a close friend or family member of the beneficiaries or as a beneficiary themselves.
Click here to read more about how we can help with bringing or defending a contested probate claim
• Dispute between executors — in addition to the risks outlined above, it’s surprising how many disagreements crop up between executors themselves, with a range of causes.
Click here to find out more about Executor Disputes
There are plenty other reasons why it might be wise to appoint a solicitor as an independent administrator. It may be that the executor named in the will simply can’t be found, or they are unable to perform the role because of poor health or bankruptcy – or they are simply too busy getting on with their own life to find an off time to promptly handle the probate.
It’s really noticeable that alongside the rising trend for DIY probate, and DIY wills, there has been a worrying increase in the number of contested wills. Records show that contested probate applications made to the High Court rose by a remarkable 700% in just five years between 2008 and 2013, and the number of claims continues to rise. The number of inheritance disputes heard in the High Court, for example, rose from 227 in 2018 to 368 in 2019. We don’t think that’s a coincidence.
Putting yourself at risk
If you choose to administer someone’s estate on a DIY basis, you must be aware that you are taking on personal liability for any mistakes you make, however innocent, both during the administration and in the future. And that’s why most people prefer to have an experienced probate solicitor handle estate administration for them.
Click here to read more about the role of the executor
Do I Need a Solicitor for Probate? Is DIY probate worth the risk?
While some people are no doubt capable of handling all aspects of a relatively simple estate, many people struggle – and very few are capable of dealing with the larger or more complicated estates, or worse still estates that involve a potential dispute.
Having a trained, experienced probate lawyer prepare your will and administer your estate does not need to be costly. In fact, when you look at the risks and potential costs that could be the result of even the tiniest oversight, it pales into insignificance. What’s more, you’ll have the peace of mind that your probate issues are being taken care of by a solicitor who has the necessary training and experience.
Specialist advice doesn’t need to be costly or difficult.
What’s more, all solicitors in England and Wales must have a minimum of £2 million professional indemnity insurance [we have more] to cover any problems in the unlikely event they should arise.
For further advice on how we can help to administer your estate professionally, effectively and in a way which will provide you with peace of mind, call us today.
We can help with the administration of the estate. Here at Bonallack & Bishop, although our experienced wills and probate solicitors are more than happy to handle the entire probate process, we often help clients with limited aspects of that administration.
Still not sure if you need a solicitor for probate?
If you’re uncertain about whether you really do want to take on responsibility for administering the estate of a loved one, why take chances. Call our experienced probate solicitors and discuss with them your concerns and whether you can hand over all, or even some, of the responsibility for probate, and the accompanying risks to them.
So if you think you can handle some of the estate, but perhaps not the most complex aspects – don’t hesitate to get in touch with us to find out how we can help you.
Click here to read what some of our clients say about our Wills and Probate Lawyers