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DIY probate: a risk worth taking?

08.10.2013

For some Will executors, it can be tempting to go it alone when it comes to the probate process. Prices are rising and it’s inevitable that many will cut costs and try to do themselves what they would previously have paid a professional to do.

But whilst it’s possible to apply for probate and administer the estate without a solicitor, it’s a process which isn’t without its risks for the unwary.

Many people assume that probate work is straightforward and whilst it’s true that it can be, more than often that’s not the case.

In many ways, DIY probate can be a false economy. Many people who take on probate themselves ultimately end up seeking legal advice due to errors made or because they’re struggling with the paperwork. In fact, even a simple mistake may mean that any cost savings you’ve made by not using a solicitor are spent on having to rectify matters.

That’s why, in all but the very simplest of estates, we recommend that you speak to a probate specialist for legal advice that can save you both time and money.

So before you make the decision to do-it-yourself, ask yourself the following:

How long will probate take?

Length of time varies enormously and depends upon the size and complexity of the deceased’s estate. Probate can be a daunting process and brings with many complicated and onerous duties that can take months – or even years – to complete.

Before you embark down the DIY route, you should be sure that you’re able to manage the additional demands on your time.

Are you happy to take on the responsibility?

As Executor of the Will, you have an important role. It’s a position that carries considerable administrative, legal and tax responsibilities.

You’ll be legally responsible for valuing the estate, paying all liabilities and distributing the deceased’s assets according to the terms of the Will. But if you act wrongly – albeit accidently – you may be liable to pay compensation to the beneficiaries from your own pocket. For this reason alone, many consider DIY probate to be an unnecessary risk.

Given this, think carefully about whether you want to manage probate, but also about whether you think you’re able to fulfil the role. If you’re not confident, now is the point at which you bring a probate specialist in.

Is there a difficult family relationship?

After the death of a loved one, family relationships can quickly turn sour and it’s not uncommon for rows to start over the deceased’s assets.

You’ll need to keep in touch with relatives and other beneficiaries – some of which will have very different priorities. Keeping them informed and updated throughout the process can help manage tensions and minimise disputes.

Is the estate complicated?

This is perhaps the most important question that you should be asking before taking on probate work yourself.

Clearly there will be circumstances in which it would be inadvisable to administer the estate yourself. Examples of this include:

•  The estate is over the inheritance tax threshold and isn’t exempt from tax
•  You have question marks over the validity of the Will
•  Dependents have been left out of the Will
•  The estate includes assets held in trust
•  The deceased hasn’t left a Will and has a spouse and/or children
•  The estate is insolvent

By not consulting a probate solicitor, you run the risk of undervaluing the estate, underpaying tax or missing out people who were entitled to inherit.

Further information

Before you make the decision to go down the DIY Probate route speak to our specialist probate solicitors in Bristol to ensure you understand the risks before making your final decision.

For professional advice about probate and dealing with the affairs of someone who has died, call 0117 325 2929 or complete our online enquiry form.

You can also visit our downloads + factsheets page for useful information on dealing with the affairs of someone who has died.

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