Amidst the grief of the passing of a loved one, the complex legal process of probate is often the last thing you want to deal with. Yet it can minimise the costs associated with a death.
Here’s everything you need to know about how to do probate yourself:
What Is Probate?
Probate is the legal right to manage the estate of someone who has died. Their “estate” is all of their assets – the property, money, investments, and personal possessions they owned.
In order to administer this estate, you need to apply to the Probate Office for either a:
- Grant of Probate – if the person who has died left a will. This grant gives you the right to access the deceased’s assets and follow the instructions in the will for their distribution.
- Grant of Letters of Administration – if there is no will, you can apply following what are called the Rules of Intestacy (which can be thought of as a sort of default will).
- Grant of Confirmation – if you are in Scotland, the probate process is slightly different and referred to as confirmation.
Not every estate needs to go through the probate process. For example, you won’t need to if all property is jointly owned and there is a survivorship clause.
Can You Do Probate Yourself Without A Solicitor?
Yes. There is no law forcing you to use a solicitor to obtain probate.
However, it is worth underlining that doing probate yourself can be time-consuming and complicated. You can also find yourself personally liable (that is to say, at the risk of needing to cover costs yourself) if mistakes are made during the process.
Only for a relatively simple estate is it a good idea to go ahead with applying for probate yourself with no legal expertise whatsoever.
How To Do Probate Yourself
If the estate is a complicated one, it’s definitely worth at least talking it over with a probate solicitor before you get started. But if you are sure you want to do probate yourself, here’s how to go about it:
1) Register The Death
In most of the UK, you need to register the death within five days. In Scotland, it’s eight days.
This is important to do not only legally but also because you will need multiple copies of the death certificate during your probate application.
2) Locate The Will
Next, confirm that there is a will and that you are named as one of the executors. The will should also explain who the deceased’s assets should go to and the funeral plans they wanted.
If there is no will or it doesn’t name an executor – or if the named executor is incapable for some reason – you can apply for that Grant of Letters of Administration. If successful, you then become the “administrator” of the estate instead of an executor.
3) Pay Inheritance Tax
Somewhat confusingly, you need to pay Inheritance Tax (IHT) before you can get your Grant of Probate document. This means you need to value all of the deceased’s assets and add them up, including:
- Money in bank accounts and building societies
- Property and land (these will normally need to be professionally valued)
- Stocks, shares and other investments
- Personal possessions
- Potential negatives, such as debts they owed
The Inheritance Tax threshold in the UK is currently £325 000. If the deceased’s estate is valued at less than this, you won’t need to pay IHT – it counts as an “excepted” estate. If it is worth more than that threshold, you need to pay the correct tax. This can usually be done from the estate itself.
It’s also worth knowing that there are ways to increase this limit (such as the “residence nil-rate band” if property will pass to a direct descendant) or other ways an estate might be excepted from IHT (such as if all property is jointly owned and passes to the deceased’s partner).
You have six months from the end of the month in which the person passed away to pay all of the IHT that’s due. You can’t get probate until this is done.
4) Apply For Probate
Only now can you apply for probate. You can do this online or by paper depending on the estate.
5) Notify Relevant Parties
It’s also your job as executor or administrator to notify all relevant parties of the death. This means locating the deceased’s bank accounts, investments, utility companies they used, government bodies, and even any creditors. You will usually need to:
- Search paperwork, files, and hard copies
- Look for digital accounts and online platforms
- Trace through My Lost Account and other similar services
- Post a notice of death in The Gazette
6) Pay Off Any Debts
If the deceased owed money to any creditors (this includes things like their mortgage) then the estate is liable for paying it. It’s important to note that the deceased’s family is not liable for debts if the estate runs out of money.
There is a strict priority order in which debts need to be paid. If you don’t follow it, you can be personally liable for covering the costs if someone tries to claim something they’re owed later down the line.
7) Claim Any Life Insurance
One often-overlooked factor is that someone who has died may have had an unknown life insurance policy that can help cover any costs. This is one of the key things to look for when investigating the deceased’s estate.
8) Distribute The Remaining Assets
Finally, it’s time to distribute the remaining assets from the deceased’s estate in line with the wishes laid out in their will. If there is no will, you usually have to follow the Rules of Intestacy.
A common misconception is that the deceased’s partner is automatically due a share of their estate. Sadly, the law doesn’t recognise unmarried partners unless they are mentioned in the will.
The Best Tip For Do It Yourself Probate
As you can see, applying for probate yourself is a complex and potentially time-consuming process, but it is possible. The most important thing is to be systematic and very organised. Make notes. Make a plan. Keep records of where you’re at. If in doubt, legal advice is easy to access.
Want to talk through how to do probate yourself (or with a bit of advice)?
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Reach out to us today for a chat about your personal situation.
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