It’s hard enough when you lose a loved one, but you are then also faced with a list of important tasks you need to undertake. If the deceased left a will, then one of these tasks will be to apply for a grant of probate.

You can either enlist the help of a probate solicitor to administer the process, do it yourself, or combine a mixture of the two. Here we’ll outline some key information you need to help decide which route is best for you.

What is a grant of probate?

Applying for the legal right to deal with someone’s property, money and possessions (their ‘estate’) when they die is called ‘applying for a grant of probate’.

A grant of probate, or grant of representation, is a formal document that the court issues to allow the executors to distribute the assets of someone who has died, according to the wishes set out in their will.  The executors will need the Grant when dealing with estate assets held by third parties (e.g. to sell the deceased’s house).

Probate is the same for everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but if you live in Scotland it’s called ‘confirmation’. For more information on the Scottish system and process, see the Scottish Courts and Tribunals website.

When is probate required?

Where the estate has assets worth over £5,000 (e.g. savings, bank accounts, stocks and shares etc.) you will usually need to obtain probate. You will always need probate if the deceased owned property (unless it was held as ‘joint tenants’ with another person). If the estate is very small and simple (usually under £5,000) or there’s only jointly-owned property and money which passes to a spouse or civil partner when someone dies, probate will not normally be needed.

How long does the application process take?

Provided there are no complications, it usually takes between four and eight weeks to get a grant of probate after you’ve submitted the application.

What happens after probate is granted?

Once probate is granted the executors can get on with administering the estate by paying any debts and making appropriate payments to the beneficiaries (those who are receiving a gift from the deceased). The executors, or their solicitors, will need to draw up estate accounts for each beneficiary, detailing all the assets, debts and income.

Once all the assets are distributed and debts paid, the estate can be wound up. The amount of time it takes to complete depends on the estate’s complexity. An estate that includes property to sell, or multiple shares and investments, or where there are potential disputes with creditors or beneficiaries, will inevitably take longer to deal with than one simply consisting of funds in a bank account.

DIY or solicitor?

The question of whether to conduct the process yourself or use a legal professional can come down to a number of factors, chiefly the complexity and the cost. With a small and straightforward estate, it’s perfectly possible to save money on legal fees and do it yourself. A number of legal websites provide a useful step by step guide and checklist to work from.

However, while DIY probate can considerably reduce costs, it leaves you with a significant amount of paperwork and responsibility. Estates can be extremely complex and could present a number of challenges which have far from straightforward solutions, including: Inheritance Tax; dying without a will; doubts around the will’s validity; assets held in trust; dependants left out of the will; bankruptcy; foreign property and assets. As the executor, you can’t cut any corners and are legally responsible for meeting all legitimate claims (including tax). If you fail to act correctly, you could be sued by one or more of the beneficiaries.

The entire process can last between nine and twelve months on average, so you have to carefully assess what is right for you, especially if you have other responsibilities and are in the process if grieving.

How much do probate services cost?

This can of course vary hugely. Some probate specialists and solicitors charge an hourly rate, others charge a fee that is a percentage of the value of the estate, or some can charge both. There are also a few companies who charge a fixed fee. The percentage fee is usually calculated as between 1% to 5% of the value of the estate, plus VAT. The key thing is that you obtain clarity at the outset of all fees and charges, so you know how much you will be paying.

A blend of both

To summarise, the choice is ultimately yours when applying for probate on whether you choose to do it yourself, or take professional legal advice.

It can be useful to remember that it does not have to be an all or nothing decision when it comes to legal advice. Solicitors can provide guidance on the parts of the process that people can do themselves, should they want to, and which parts would be best left to a legal professional. That way, you still have the ability to cut down on fees but with the peace of mind that you are not over-stretching yourself.

You just need to ensure that you have done your research, so whichever option you decide to take, you are fully aware of the duties, time and costs involved, to make the best decision for your own situation.

If you would like some help with applying for probate, please get in touch.