Probate

Below is A Straightforward Guide to Probate and the likely costs.

If you would like us to help you deal with all of the formalities, or simply advise you, call Robert Sayer or Breege Daly on 020 3633 4060.

Our office is in West London. You can visit us if you like but you don't have to. We regularly help clients who live all over the country using the post, the telephone and email. We will do everything that needs to be done with the minimum of fuss.

Members of:
The Law Society of England and Wales
Solicitors for Elderly Clients
The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners
The Mencap Panel


I’ve heard I may need Probate. What is that?

Probate is the general term used for dealing with the affairs of someone who has died. It covers the whole range of situations, from dealing with a simple estate to a highly complicated one, whether there is a Will or not.

What is a "Grant of Probate" or "Letters of Administration"?

These are official certificates issued by the Probate Registry (a Government department) authorising a named person(s) to collect in or deal with the deceased’s property. It’s called a Grant of Probate when there is a Will and Letters of Administration when there is no Will, but they are basically the same thing.

Why would I need such a certificate?

If someone dies leaving any property, (for example a bank or building society account, an insurance policy, shares or a house), any institution holding that property or anybody buying it will want to know that they are dealing with the right person. A Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration is the official document confirming who is the proper executor or next of kin. Once they have seen a copy the bank, building society, insurer etc can safely hand over the property. If the estate (the property left) is less than £5000 or so in total you can sometimes get the money released without a Grant or Letters. If the deceased owned a house, flat or any other land just in their name you will always need a Grant or Letters. If they owned a house, flat or other land jointly with someone else you may need a Grant or Letters...or you may not. As you can see, it can get a little complicated.

Inheritance Tax Saving

Usually any estate worth more than £325,000 faces a bill for Inheritance Tax. At a tax rate of 40% this can be quite substantial, particularly for anyone who owns a property in this part of the country.

Most Inheritance Tax planning needs to be done during one’s lifetime but sometimes there are steps that can be taken to reduce or even completely eliminate the tax liability even after someone has died.

If the net estate is over £325,000 Inheritance Tax may be payable. Surviving spouses and charities are exempt. That Tax is at the rate of 40% on every pound over £325,000. So, for example, an estate worth £600,000 would incur tax of £120,000. (£600,000 minus £325,000 = £325,000 x 40% = £110,000).
Usually Inheritance Tax has to be paid at the same time as you apply for the Grant. There are some exceptions and sometimes a bank will release enough money in advance to cover the Tax.

Collecting in assets and transferring property

Different assets may need to be dealt with in different ways. A bank account may simply be closed and the money paid to the appropriate beneficiary. Shares may be sold or it might be better to keep them and just transfer the ownership to the beneficiary. Whether a house or flat goes to the person named in the Will can be affected by how it was owned. Some jointly owned properties go to the other co owner regardless of what the Will may say.

Distributing the Estate

The final stage is making sure the money or property goes to the right people, but first make sure any debts are paid. If they are overlooked, the executor might become personally liable to pay them out of his or her own money. Because of this, it’s prudent to place an advertisement asking any claimants to contact the executor. Done properly this gives protection against unknown creditors.

How do I get a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration?

If the estate is simple and uncomplicated you may wish to deal with it yourself. If you do not feel up to doing that or if the estate is anything but the most straightforward, don’t try. Leave it to us.

What needs to be done ? First, check if a Will has been left. If so, who is the Executor? That is the person(s) responsible for dealing with the estate. If you are not the executor, you should leave it to them unless they are not able or willing to take on the work. If that happens, talk to us before doing anything else. Acting as an unauthorised executor can be risky.

If there is no Will, the next of kin has responsibility for dealing with the estate. The next of kin is the closest surviving relative. The surviving spouse, child, parent, or brothers and sisters and so on in that order.

Next, confirm how much the property left is worth. This means listing all the property and then getting valuations from the bank, building society, insurer etc. You also have to find out if there are any outstanding debts or mortgages.

Armed with all the necessary information you can now complete the necessary forms and apply to the Probate Registry for the Grant itself.


What can we do to help?

The death of someone close can be devastating. The last thing most of us feel like doing is getting involved in sorting out their financial affairs... but it has to be done.

If you don’t feel up to dealing with all the formalities yourself let us do it for you. As solicitors we deal with this situation every day. We know what needs to be done and how to do it with the minimum of fuss. Let us sort out the legal and financial formalities for you while you look after your family and yourself.

We will:

Contact any bank, building society, insurance company or any other institution that needs to be informed.

Liaise with the Inland Revenue about any necessary tax returns, refunds or demands and with any relevant pension or benefits departments.

Deal with the transfer of ownership of any house, flat or other property.

Collect in any other assets and make sure they go to the right beneficiaries.

In short, do whatever is needed to make sure all the legal formalities, which arise at this time, are properly dealt with.

We are experts.

We deal with clients’ financial affairs every day.
As solicitors we are highly trained, experienced professionals.

What will it cost

From the client’s point of view it’s easy to think “the cheaper the better” And if lawyers were as money grabbing as we are sometimes made out to be in films and books we would charge as much as we could get away with.

The reality is neither of these extremes would be right.

We could charge nothing at all…but we would close down after a few weeks and not be there to help
clients in the future.

We could charge a fortune…but would not get many clients and so would also close down pretty quickly.

Instead we aim to charge a fee which fair and reasonable to both us and to you. One which covers our overheads and gives us a reasonable but not excessive profit.

Over the years the courts have decided solicitor fees should:

“Have regard to all the circumstances of the case and in particular to:
a) The complexity of the matter
b) The skill and specialised knowledge and responsibilities involved;
c) The time spent on the business
d) The number and importance of the documents prepared or perused
e) The amount or value of any money or property involved;
f) The importance of the matter to the client;
g) A value element
Trying to work out the variations of all of those in each case is difficult but we do our best.

We simplify it by concentrating on two main factors. The first is the time spent and how much we charge for that is worked out as follows:

We add up the cost of running our office for one full year. This includes the wages we pay to secretaries, bookkeepers, filing clerks and our support staff, the money we pay to our suppliers for equipment, stationery, electricity, rent, business rates and all the other bills that come in. We then divide that amount by the number of hours our solicitors can reasonably be expected to work in a year, taking into account their normal holiday entitlement, sick leave and the time they spend on administration, training and other similar requirements. This gives us the amount each solicitor has to earn an hour to ensure we can pay our bills and other overheads. The current basic hourly figure works out to approximately £245.00. That is what we have to earn just to keep our doors open…………………But we don’t actually charge anywhere near that rate.

The second main factor is the value element. In part this is one way of reflecting the other aspects the court has set down in regard to solicitors fees, that is the amount involved, the complexity, the importance to the client etc but it also allows us to offset some of the hourly charge and allows us to bring the hourly rate down to £155.00 while still leaving us with an annual overall profit margin on all of the work we do of about 20%. Part of that profit margin is used to pay for any new investment we need to do to keep up to date and provide a better service to our clients in the future. What remains is the real profit, the income that the partners in the firm receive. Currently it is around a level similar to that of a Pharmacist or a Veterinarian…but much lower than a GP and a bit above that of a Police Inspector. We hope you accept this is a reasonable level and fairly reflects the years of training and study we undergo, the expertise we have and the risks involved in running a business. At present the value element is 1.5 % of the gross value of the estate.

The reality is every estate is as different as every individuals life. Some will end their days with little in the way of assets. Perhaps living in a nursing home with just one bank account. For them the cost of dealing with their estate may be two or three hundred pounds. Others may die leaving a large and complicated amount of assets. An expensive house, buy to let properties, shares, a holiday home overseas. Even worse, there may be relatives fighting over the estate. The cost of sorting all that out could cost tens of thousands of pounds.

It follows that is impossible for us to give any meaningful estimate of what it would cost to deal with an estate until we have information about what is involved and are able to estimate what might need to be done. Costs could range from £200 for the very simplest case to £20,000 for a reasonably complicated one. Fortunately most fall into the lower to middle part of that range though the odd few are more.

Also, remember VAT at 20% is added to our fees. And the estate has to cover any fees we pay out to third parties. For example estate agents fees if we have to sell a property, inheritance tax if payable, the fee to the court to obtain probate which is currently £155 if you use a solicitor