Probate – Do you really need solicitors?

With the amount of information that you can find on the internet today, the question of whether you really need solicitors to help obtain a Grant of Probate and administer a deceased’s estate is often raised.

What is a Grant of Probate?
A Grant of Probate is an Order produced by the Court that names the individuals charged with the responsibility of administering the deceased’s estate.

If the deceased left a legally valid Will, the persons charged with this responsibility will be outlined within it as the Executors of the deceased’s estate. The Executors must administer the estate as per the terms of the deceased’s Will.

If the deceased did not leave a Will, they are said to have died “intestate”. A strict order of persons who are entitled to apply to be appointed as the estate’s “Personal Representatives” are outlined within the Intestacy rules. These persons (once appointed by the Court under a Grant of Letters of Administration) will be charged with the responsibility of administering the deceased’s estate in much the same way as an Executor.

The Executors will have to obtain a Grant of Probate if the deceased held assets in their sole name that total more than £5,000. These assets will include property, land, bank accounts, stock, shares, bonds, insurance and pension policies, works of art etc. amongst others.

If you choose to apply for a Grant of Probate yourself you should be aware of the following:

  • A complete and thorough investigation into all of the deceased’s assets and liabilities must be carried out.
  • It is essential you obtain the most accurate information in order to complete the required Inheritance Tax account (either an IHT205 or an IHT400) together with their supplemental pages. This information will be supplied to HM Revenue & Customs who are now completing stringent compliance checks to ensure that Inheritance Tax Returns are complete and correct. If you have entered false information in an Inheritance Tax Return, this can have serious repercussions for the Executors and the estate.
  • No matter what size the deceased’s estate may be, more than often attending to a deceased’s estate through the probate process can be an alien and time-consuming affair. It will take time and patience, especially if there are a lot of assets which have to be valued before being sold, or there are several beneficiaries to report to. It is therefore essential to be completely accurate and scrupulously fair in everything you do, or risk a claim being initiated by anyone of the beneficiaries.
  • Executors and Personal Representatives of estates can face claims being made against the estate by people who were not named in the Will, or even entitled to receive a share of the estate under the intestacy rules. Prince Evans Solicitors can advise you about the risks before they arise and help to protect you against them should claims be brought.
  • This is often a time of great sadness and stress, and families are known to fall out whilst they come to terms with the loss. Many people find it difficult to keep a clear head during times of grief. There is a lot to be said for an independent specialist taking this strain away from the family, and attending to the estate in a sensitive and efficient manner.

What are the advantages of using a solicitor?
Using Prince Evans’ probate services is always the most advisable option when attending to a deceased’s estate as we are highly trained, regulated legal specialists. We are aware of HM Revenue & Customs requirements, and can attend to the requests of the various financial institutions on behalf of the estate. You will also find that by instructing a solicitor we can move matters along much more quickly.

Our clients instruct us so as to relieve themselves of facing the hardship of preparing the legal and financial paperwork; be that in carrying out investigations into the assets and liabilities of estate, completing the Inheritance Tax account, applying for a Grant of Probate, or administering and distributing the estate.

Other key reasons why our clients instruct us are:

  • When they are seeking legal advice and guidance where the use of trusts are included in a deceased’s Will;
  • When Inheritance Tax is payable, in order to understand how and when it is paid to HMRC;
  • Where a deceased person had foreign assets, especially if they were non-UK domiciled;
  • Where a deceased person held assets or an interest in a business;
  • If you use a solicitor, Probate Court fees are only £45 to obtain a Grant of Probate whereas it would cost a non-solicitor £105!
  • Deeds of Variation. Provided that all beneficiaries are in agreement and are over 18, you may seek to change the terms of the deceased’s Will if by doing so the estate becomes more tax efficient and beneficial to do so. The varied Will is then read back as if it were the original instrument.

Further benefits of using a solicitor are:

  • We know the pitfalls to look for – There could be something in the Will which is tax inefficient, for example, the deceased left a £400,000 legacy. This would trigger an Inheritance Tax charge unnecessarily.  We can advise on a more tax efficient way to structure the Will to reduce Inheritance Tax charges. We can also advise on trusts, how they operate and how best to ring-fence any assets, together with how to structure a person’s affairs to minimise Inheritance Tax liability.
  • We’re insured and regulated. Will writers and many probate service firms are unregulated whereas we carry professional indemnity insurance, ensuring that we are fully insured and regulated.
  • Personalised service.  We look beyond the probate process and do not look at issues in isolation; such as future estate planning or advising on powers of attorney.

What are the possible pitfalls in Probate?
Many clients find that when they try to contact banks and building societies themselves to identify the deceased’s assets, the banks may not respond quickly, if at all. Furthermore, various institutions may only provide current valuations rather than the valuation as at the date of death, which is required to complete the Inheritance Tax account. This would then lead to inaccurate information being sent to the HM Revenue and Customs, which may have sever implications for the Executors.

Completing the Inheritance Tax forms are complicated. You might enter things in the wrong box, or not complete all the required information, which would open the Executors and the deceased’s estate to enquiries from HM Revenue and Customs. You may also not have taken into consideration various exemptions and reliefs that may be applicable and therefore end up paying tax when you don’t need to.

There may be complex issues which require specialist advice. Business assets, assets held in Trust, the application of the Intestacy rules (where the deceased died without a Will) and foreign assets are just some of the many issues that can arise.

What options does Prince Evans offer to clients when dealing with Probate?
We have a range of ways of dealing with Probate and it does not have to be all or nothing.  There are three types of Probate services we offer although we are very flexible and are happy to assist at any time.  These are:

1) We can run the entire Probate process and attend to everything on behalf of the estate. This would include carrying out fact finding investigations into the estate’s assets and liabilities, completing the requisite Inheritance Tax and legal paperwork, attending to the administration of the estate and distributing its net value to the beneficiaries. All that we ask for is the complete estate information be passed across to us. This will ensure that the deceased’s loved one’s do not have to contend with the stress associated with the process of administering a persons estate.

2) Alternatively, should the Executors wish to administer and distribute the estate themselves, a second option would be for Prince Evans to be instructed to carry out the fact finding investigations and complete the legal and financial paperwork only. We would ascertain whether Inheritance Tax is payable and apply for a Grant of Probate. Once Probate is granted, the Executors would collect in the assets and administer the estate as per the terms of the Will themselves.

3) Finally, our clients can instruct us to complete the Inheritance Tax forms and probate application papers only without conducting any investigations on behalf of the estate. As stated above, once Probate is granted, this shall then be passed across to the Executors to finalise the estate themselves. We offer a fixed fee for this service.

We appreciate that it is a very emotional time, and attending to any potential inheritance tax and legal paperwork is often overwhelming for people going through the bereavement process. Remember, you do not have to go through this process alone.

The specialist team at Prince Evans Solicitors are here to help!

Abigail Pfister

Prince Evans Solicitors LLP