DIY Probate: Is it worth the risk?
Should you opt for the DIY approach to probate or pay a professional? We explain below...
The word ‘probate’ understandably gets a bad rep, nevertheless selling a probate property is a task that most of us will have to do at some point in our lives.
Traditionally, probate properties are dealt with by a solicitor, well versed in the probate process and armed with the industry knowledge and expertise to achieve probate quickly and in compliance with the law.
Yet lately, evidence suggests that an increasing amount of Executors are choosing to deal with probate first hand.
So with this in mind, is DIY Probate something you should consider?
First things first, what is probate?
Probate is the process in which someone (typically the Executor named in the will) is granted permission to deal with a deceased person’s estate. Their responsibilities as an Executor include applying for probate, sorting out any outstanding debts and dealing with the sale and/ or distribution of any remaining assets – one of the largest being their property.
But, do I need probate?
Whether you require probate or not depends on the complexity of your circumstances. For instance, if you’re couple with a property in joint names and would simply have to transfer any assets over to your partner’s name, chances are probate will not be necessary.
It’s when assets like properties, money and a portfolio of investments have to be split between multiple parties that probate is a wise idea. A good example being a large group of brothers and sisters. Find out if probate is necessary by visiting the Gov website.
So how much does probate cost?
The costs of probate differ with each case. We’ve outlined some of the main costs you should expect below…
Probate application fee – £215 for anyone doing DIY probate (reduced to £155 if done through a solicitor) and free if the estate totals less than £5k.
Inheritance tax – a single person pays 40% on anything over £325k. This figure is doubled to 650k for a married couple.
Copies of the probate – these are £1.50 per copy.
And if you opt for a solicitor over DIY probate, you can expect…
Probate solicitors fees – these are entirely dependent on the firm you use and come at either a fixed price or percentage of the overall estate. We’d budget a couple of thousand pounds for these just to be on the safe side.
As well as these initial costs, it’s also worth considering the costs of funeral arrangements, potentially a house clearance and the cost of maintaining the property until probate is granted.
Selling a property during probate: What should I do?
Inform your insurance company
With any probate property, one of the first things you should do is inform your insurance company of the change in occupancy, as each insurer will deal with probate properties differently.
Some may simply ask for additional details and agree to continue your coverage until your policy’s up for renewal.
Others may agree to honour your policy providing you agree to pay a revised rate or switch to another type of policy.
However, with some companies, this could be enough to invalidate your policy, so it’s well worth checking your documents and giving them a call if you’re unsure.
NOTE: If your property’s empty for more than one month, insurers class it as ‘unoccupied’.
Inform the council
Just like with insurance, it’s a good idea to inform the council that your property’s now in probate.
Do so and you could be made exempt from council tax until probate is granted, providing the property remains empty.
But this doesn’t mean you can afford to hang around, as some local authorities charge double the council tax if a property is left vacant for an extended period of time, regardless of whether it’s a buy-to-let or a probate property (typically 2 years or longer).
Regular health checks
Probate properties still require attention, so it’s important that either you or a trusted friend or family member conducts a health check on a regular basis.
This includes checking the locks, testing the smoke detectors and keeping an eye out for any signs of deterioration – i.e. damp or mould.
We’d also advise that you don’t disconnect any probate property from the mains.
Scheduling lights using a timer is a great way to deter burglars and setting the central heating at a constant 15 degrees is useful for preventing any pipes from freezing during the winter months.
Two preventative measures that could save you a lot of money and unwanted hassle.
If you’re really keen you could also open the windows for 10-15 minutes on each check-up to let fresh air circulate inside and reduce the likelihood of mould or damp.
Also, in the event of a storm, it’s a wise idea to check on the roof to ensure no tiles have become unsettled – a common cause of unwanted leaks.
Pay close attention to bills
While we advise you to keep a probate property hooked up to the mains, it’s worth remembering to cancel any unnecessary services such as internet, magazine subscriptions and television packages.
Nipping these in the bud sooner rather than later is another quick and effective way to minimise costs.
Okay, but how long does probate take?
Providing there are no hold-ups, the probate process takes approximately 4-8 weeks.
However, it could take even longer depending on the complexity of your case and the number of assets (properties, shares, bonds etc.) needing to be split and/ or sold. Any mistakes made during the process, either by you through DIY probate or by a solicitor, are another common cause of hold up.
And, what happens to debts in probate?
If the sale of probate property and any other assets isn’t enough to cover any leftover debts, don’t panic. While being an Executor comes with its responsibilities, in the majority of cases it doesn’t mean you’ll be personally liable to cover them.
For most cases of probate, the property is the largest asset, which is why determining its value can be so helpful. To do so you’ll require a valuation of your probate property – a figure you can either obtain through an estate agent or a property buying company like ourselves.
Only there’s a difference. While your local agents will give you a rough idea of your property’s market value, we’ll give you a CASH OFFER in as little as 1 day!
So, is DIY probate is a good idea?
It is all a matter of confidence.
Probate relies on various types of administrative, legal and tax work, many of which prove very complex and time-consuming.
If you decide not to seek the help of a probate solicitor and do these yourself, it’s important to recognise that the responsibility of the solicitor is on your shoulders and that you could be financially and legally liable for any mistakes you make.
For instance, if any outstanding debts come to light after probate, you could be ordered to settle them personally. This is why we’d always recommend those with large or complex estates to avoid DIY probate and enlist the help of a professional.
Even if you’re confident in your abilities as an Executor, DIY Probate may not be the best option for you.
Because at a time of loss, the last thing you want is to be paranoid about is making a potentially legally-binding mistake or the stress of selling a probate property on the open market. Ask us and it's always worth seeking legal advice from a professional, particularly if the value of the estate can cover the costs.
Looking to sell a probate property quickly? Reach out to our property professionals today for your no-obligation cash offer.