“Do I need a solicitor for probate?” When to seek specialist legal advice
“Do I need a solicitor for probate?” It’s a question we always get asked. As an executor to any will there will be numerous tasks and undertakings to administer the estate, this could range from ascertaining what assets there are to distributing the net proceeds to beneficiaries.
Whether you wish to carry out a do-it-yourself probate or use a specialist solicitor will depend on the scale of the deceased estate, and if the set-up is complicated. For example, if a beneficiary wishes to contest the will, or a friend/ family member has a grievance disputing the contents of the will, or where a dependant has been deliberately left out of the will, there is potential for a claim. This is when it is easier to let a third party specialist smooth out the problems.
“Do I need a solicitor for probate?” – Maybe yes
Typical situations where it is advisable to seek professional probate advice include:
a) There are doubts about the validity of the will.
b) Intestate death (when no will is left).
c) If there is a dispute concerning the intestacy law.
d) There is likelihood of disagreements amongst the executors, for example, if there are arguments as to whether or not to sell the family home.
e) The deceased owned any overseas assets or property.
f) If there are any investment properties that need to be sold and any rental revenue needs to be audited.
g) If the estate is subject to inheritance tax, quarrels can sometimes arise about reducing the potential IHT liability.
h) Capital Gains Tax (CGT) on rental portfolios will need to be factored in if the deceased was a landlord.
i) The deceased resided outside the UK for tax purposes.
j) If there are any trusts, company shares or assets involved.
k) The estate is bankrupt (also known as insolvent).
In all of these situations, the probate process itself is likely to be more comprehensive than usual and so, take longer to resolve. Seeking qualified advice from a probate professional or appointing an expert to act on your behalf could save you a considerable amount of emotional stress, time and money. You can be sure they will charge a fee for their services, and this will be paid out of the estate.
“Do I need a solicitor for probate?” – How much will it cost?
Some probate specialists, tax accountants and solicitors charge an hourly rate while others charge a fee that is a percentage of the whole estate. This cost is usually calculated as between 1% to 5% of the value of the estate, plus VAT. This total doesn’t include disbursements, court or application fees and so the final bill is likely to be higher.
Some probate specialists charge both a percentage fee and an hourly rate. But this doesn’t always mean they’re more expensive. Others charge a fixed charge for their services, basing it on an estimate of the volume of work. These companies claim to be cheaper than a traditional solicitor or accountant.
Most banks also offer probate services. However, these services are often more expensive than using a solicitor or a specialist company. A sensible option is to get two or three quotations.
Tip: Consider comparing quotes when you shop around for a probate specialist – you could even use these competing quotes to negotiate for a discounted price.
Using a probate solicitor or specialist?
If you decide to use a specialist it can be easier to use the solicitor that drafted the will or stored it, but you don’t have to use them – you’re well within your rights to look about for another professional.
“Do I need a solicitor for probate?” – Things to watch out for
Below is a list of items to consider when dealing with a probate specialist:
a) Rough estimate quote versus fixed cost. If you are given a rough estimate you should expect revisions, as this is on a running metered tariff. Be prepared for a higher bill than initially estimated. Most professionals will ask you to complete a detailed fact finding questionnaire which gives them a better understanding of your situation, so that they can give a more accurate quote.
b) Third party costs and disbursement costs. There are some fees called ‘disbursement costs’ and these are a standard part of getting probate. For example the probate application fee or getting certified copies of certain documents. Selling property too will involve costs such as valuation and conveyancing fees, which will be an additional cost added to the quote you receive.
Tip: Remember to ask how much the disbursement fees are and also for a clear rate for these additional services.
c) Stage payment. As the work progresses, many probate specialists expect payment at certain stages. Some of these payments are for their services up to that point while others are for disbursement fees.
Tip: Before you agree to hire anyone, make sure that they clearly explain when payments are due and give you a breakdown of their charges.
d) Value Added Tax – be sure to ask! You’ll also need to factor in VAT if it isn’t included in the quote. The 20% VAT charge will increase the bill by a surprising amount.
e) Banks can act as a co-executor of the will. If the deceased used a bank to draw up their will, the bank can also be an appointed co-executor. When this happens they can recommend they themselves act as a professional executor and deal with the estate. Occasionally in the past some banks may have refused to renounce their role, if this occurs you might have to apply to the court to remove them.