DIY probate

Around a third of people choose to carry out probate themselves rather than using a solicitor. If you’re interested in doing this, read on to find out what it involves and how Which? can help. 

 In this guide...

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Should I consider DIY probate?

It’s possible to save a considerable amount of money by carrying out probate yourself. While a probate solicitor is likely to charge thousands of pounds, DIY probate can usually be completed for a couple of hundred. That said, it’s important to make sure you fully understand the process and the responsibilities involved before opting to go it alone 

Probate is time-consuming, so you should make sure you’re fully aware of what’s involved and think about whether you have the time needed to make the commitment. Careful organisation is essential, as you’ll need to follow strict steps and complete a large amount of paperwork. Failing to follow the correct procedures and meet all legitimate claims (including tax) could have serious consequences, and could even leave you liable to being sued.

If the estate is particularly complicated – for example if it’s very large, or includes an overseas property – it may be better to enlist the help of a probate solicitor.  

Complications can also sometimes arise if the person who has died used a bank to draw up their will and appointed the bank as a co-executor. In this situation, some banks may insist on acting as a professional executor and carrying out probate, too. This can be expensive, as banks tend to charge on a percentage basis. If you find that this is the case, you can ask the bank to renounce its executor role, but it may require the agreement of all beneficiaries.

  • If you do decide to go ahead and carry out probate yourself, find out how Which? Legal Probate can help

The probate process

1. Assessing the estate

The first step is to track down the original will and check you are named as an executor. You’ll need to go through the deceased's papers and bank statements to establish their assets and liabilities. For some estates this is fairly straightforward, but others are more complicated, with multiple investments, properties and personal belongings to consider.

You need to send a certified copy of the death certificate to each institution and ask them to submit a final statement. Banks will pay out funeral expenses before you obtain a Grant of Probate, but most assets will stay frozen until this has been formally granted.

If the estate includes a property, this will need to be valued. You can value the property yourself, but getting a professional valuation (in writing) from an estate agent or surveyor will make dealing with HMRC far more straightforward if they challenge your assessment.

2. Probate forms and fees

Once you’ve worked out the details of the estate, the next stage is to complete a probate application form (PA1). You can download this from HM Courts & Tribunals Service or, if you’re using Which? Legal Probate (available in England and Wales), you’ll find one included in your probate pack. In Scotland you send confirmation forms C1 and C5 to the Sheriff Court.  

At the same time, you have to submit a form to HMRC to establish the Inheritance tax (IHT) liability of the estate. If it’s below the IHT threshold (£325,000), use form IHT 205 (also included in the Which? Legal Probate pack), or IHT 400 if it’s above. The same forms are used in Scotland.

The threshold can be raised in cases where the deceased was the surviving spouse or civil partner of someone who has died before them. Any IHT allowance the first partner didn’t use can be claimed by the executor of the second, on a pro-rata basis. This can potentially mean that the threshold in such circumstances is £650,000 – twice the individual nil-rate band. To claim additional allowance, executors must complete form IHT 217 if the estate is below the IHT threshold, or form IHT 402 if the estate is above the threshold.      

As well as the value of the estate at the time of death, you’ll need to give HMRC details of any cash gifts made by the deceased in the seven years before death. These can increase the value of the estate for IHT and need to be checked carefully.

Once the forms are completed they should be sent, together with the original will and death certificate, to the Probate Registry.

As well as supplying the right paperwork, you need to swear an executor’s oath confirming that the details you’ve provided are correct. You can do this at your nearest Probate Registry or at a local solicitor’s office if this is more convenient. The probate application fee is currently £215. Additional copies of the grant can be ordered for 50p each. It's worth getting multiple copies at this stage – most people need at least six.

3. Obtaining a Grant of Probate

Provided that everything is in order and that HMRC accepts your valuation, any IHT due on the estate must now be paid. This is a requirement of getting a Grant of Probate (or letters of administration if you’re an administrator).

If there’s enough money in one of the deceased’s bank accounts to cover the amount due, it should be possible to arrange a direct payment to HMRC. Most UK banks permit this on receipt of an IHT 423 form.

Where the estate assets are tied up in property or shares, HMRC will accept IHT payment in instalments, and you’ll only need to pay 10% of the total due in advance. 

4. Estate administration

This is the last stage of probate. Administration involves gathering in all the assets you have identified and distributing them as directed by the will. Once probate has been granted, most institutions will release funds without delay.

You need to send them a certified copy of the grant in order to arrange this. The money you receive should be paid into a special executor's account, separate from your own.

Once you’ve received all of the funds due, you can begin making the necessary payments to the beneficiaries.

The last step is to prepare a set of final accounts. You need to keep these and the supporting paperwork for at least 12 years (the limitation period for any claim against the estate).

Find out more about estate administration.

How long does probate take?

The amount of time it takes to carry out DIY probate depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of the estate, and the amount of time the executors or administrators have to dedicate to carrying out the work.

Provided there are no complications, it usually takes between four and eight weeks to get a Grant of Probate or letters of administration after you’ve submitted the application.

Once this has been obtained, the length of time it will take to complete the administration of the deceased person’s assets all depends on the complexity of the estate. An estate that includes property to sell or multiple shares and investments will take longer to deal with than one which simply consists of money in a bank account.

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