You do not have to use a solicitor to get a grant of probate or administer the estate of someone who has died. But it is important to understand what your obligations are if you take on that task.
If a Will has been left, appointing you as an executor you have to apply to the Probate Registry to get the grant of probate unless it’s a very small estate. Banks and other financial institutions will not release assets without that.
If the deceased person did not leave a Will then certain people can apply, again to the Probate Registry, for letters of administration, which would also allow you to deal with the banks and other asset holders.
The forms to get the grant of probate can be filled in by laypeople but it’s important to get the application right otherwise the Probate Registry can and do, reject them, which could cause considerable delay.
You will also be obliged to investigate the tax position and fill in forms for HMRC whether inheritance tax is due or not. It is important to get those right because failing to declare and pay the right tax can lead to quite heavy penalties.
There is also lots of administrative paperwork to undertake. For example you will have to inform organisations like pension providers, benefits payers, banks, utilities providers, local authority, that the deceased person has died.
The estate has an obligation to find out what debts are owed and pay them out of the estates assets, so you may find yourself negotiating with creditors.
There may also be claims that need to be made on life insurance policies or refunds sought if the deceased is owed anything themselves.
The assets of the estate have to be gathered in which could involve selling a house or shares. Matters may be complicated further if there is a foreign property such as a holiday home because different rules may apply.
Eventually you will need to distribute the estate in accordance with the terms of the Will, or intestacy provisions if there is no will. It can be quite a complex task to interpret a will to ensure that the right amounts go to the right people or organisations. What happens, for example, if a legacy has been left to a charity and that charity has merged with another, or changed its name, or ceased to exist? If as an executor you get this wrong and pay the wrong amounts to the wrong people you can become personally liable yourself.
The same applies if there is no Will because very strict rules govern how an estate should be distributed in those circumstances and it’s vital to know and follow them.
Finally you will need to keep careful records of what you have done and estate accounts so that if any beneficiary did want to dispute something, you have a good record.
So in summary, you can do probate yourself but there are some matters that you need to consider carefully.
As solicitors we do all of this, all of the time, so we are used to navigating our way around the system and not overlooking anything.
At Stephensons we offer a range of fixed fee packages to assist executors and administrators of estates. We can guide you as much or as little as you feel comfortable with. So we can just assist you to get the grant of probate and leave you to do everything else, or we can administer the estate, doing the things set out above, and take the whole burden off you. Our fees reflect the amount of work needed so you can choose what you need and only pay for what you need.