The idea of doing probate yourself is one many people have, especially when you realise you could save the estate hundreds, if not thousands, in legal fees.
So can you do probate yourself?
The short answer is yes! Just like you can decide to represent yourself in a court of law, you can also choose to administer the deceased’s estate without a legal advisor. However, whether this is a good idea or not depends on the size and complexity of the deceased’s estate, and being honest to yourself about the time and effort you are willing to devote.
Let’s have a look at some points to consider:
1) Time devoted
The time required will depend on the size and complexity of the deceased’s estate, but even simple estates require time. Be honest with yourself and ask how much time you can devote. There can be many time-consuming aspects to organise, tasks can become overwhelming (legal speak can be headache inducing at the best of times), and it’s easy to make mistakes… which leads us on to
2) Liability for mistakes
As the executor or administrator of the deceased’s estate, you are bound by law to act in the interests of the estate. If mistakes are made, you could be personally liable. Even small mistakes can lead to big financial penalties. Would the beneficiaries be gracious when losing thousands of pounds? Again, being completely honest with yourself about your abilities is key here.
3) Asset collection
Some estates may involve you collecting assets from third parties, possibly family members. It’s like collecting debt from a family member or friend. You know you are owed it, so you have the right to collect. However, it still feels uncomfortable. Does the estate have any assets for you to collect, and will you be comfortable doing so?
4) Complexity of estate
What makes an estate complex? This depends on your level of expertise. But generally, unless you have experience, we recommend you choose to take legal advice if the estate has the following issues:
a) There is no will, especially if the deceased had an estate worth over £250,000 and was married with children.
b) The will has been lost.
c) The will mentions a beneficiary who cannot be contacted.
d) There is a dispute as to whether the will is valid, or someone plans on challenging the will (e.g. a dependant deliberately left out of the will).
e) The will has a trust set up under it, or it discloses beneficiaries that are children (aged under 18) where a trust will be set up for them.
f) The estate is worth more than the UK Inheritance Tax threshold (£325,000, in tax year 2015-2016).
g) The estate is insolvent.
h) The deceased was the owner or partner of a business, or property that was agricultural.
Many people will go through probate successfully without legal counsel. But what they all have in common is they considered the above points before attempting probate. We suggest you do too.