By Ian Robinson
Find out about probate solicitors' fees and what a professional will do if you pay for them to carry out the probate process.
If you're the executor of a will, you'll need to decide whether to pay a professional to carry out the probate process or do it yourself. To find out more about the latter option, see our guide to DIY probate.
Should you decide to get professional help from a probate solicitor, it can be simplest to use the firm that drew up and/or stored the will, but you don't have to; you're well within your rights to shop around or to use someone you already know.
However, this can be a problem if the deceased used a bank to draw up their will and appointed the bank as a co-executor.
In the past, some banks insisted on acting as a professional executor in these circumstances, and on carrying out probate, too. If you find that the deceased had entered such an agreement, be careful, as it can be a very expensive way to do things - especially as banks tend to charge on a percentage basis.
You can ask the bank to renounce its executor role, but all beneficiaries will need to agree to this.
Find out more: Which? Legal can offer step-by-step guidance on probate
Using a probate solicitor
Probate solicitors' fees
Most solicitors undertake the whole process, from applying for probate to distributing the assets. Although some base their charge on a percentage of the estate, the majority apply an hourly charge, based on the work involved and who undertakes it.
The overall cost varies according to the complexity of the estate and the nature of the will.
Shares, overseas property and trusts can all make the valuation of an estate far from straightforward, while problems with a will - from badly drafted codicils to family disputes - also add to a solicitor's charges.
Here are some examples of how much you might expect to pay if you use a bank or a solicitor to carry out probate:
|Probate fees (approximate guide)|
1 Bank acting as executor and carrying out probate (typical 4% fee)
2 Solicitor carrying out probate (typical 2% fee)
Getting a quote from a probate solicitor
Many solicitors are reluctant to give more than a rough estimate of their fees before beginning the job. If they do give you a ballpark figure, it will be subject to revision, although firms now send out detailed fact-find questionnaires that allow them to get a more accurate picture of the work involved.
Solicitors normally issue revised estimates as the job progresses. They may also expect interim payments. Remember to factor in VAT if it's not included in the quote; you'll also need to pay for a number of 'disbursements', which cover items such as Probate Registry fees.
A few solicitors combine an hourly rate for 'time spent' with a percentage charge. If they do this, they are expected to let you know at the outset and to charge a lower percentage for large estates than small ones.
When solicitors charge by the hour, it’s important to disclose full details of the estate as quickly as possible. Some will agree to a division of labour, which may reduce costs. Where a solicitor’s costs seem excessive, it is possible to get them checked by the court.
Find out more: DIY probate - the alternative to using a solicitor
Not all probate solicitors work on hourly rates and not all restrict themselves to estimates. Across the country there are firms that give fixed-price quotations for probate work, based on the size of the estate.
Their prices are clearest for estates below the inheritance tax threshold (currently £325,000). Quotations for larger estates tend to be 'by arrangement' but should still be less, subject to revision, than traditional time-based estimates.
There are also firms of probate brokers that gather clients' details through a detailed fact-find then get a panel of solicitors to quote for the work. They aim to achieve a more competitive price through this tendering process, and claim to be able to offer fees that are 40-50% cheaper than traditional solicitors' fees.
Another fixed-price professional service is that offered by trust corporations. These are firms that employ lawyers, accountants and tax planners.
Useful link: Final Duties - a broker for probate solicitors that could reduce your costs
If the estate includes a property that you plan to sell, there will be extra fees payable for conveyancing. Most people who use a solicitor to handle probate get the same firm to handle the conveyancing.
Although this can be convenient, it isn’t always the cheapest or most efficient option. If you carry out probate without the help of a solicitor, you're at liberty to use conveyancing specialists and may be able to negotiate lower fees.
Go further: conveyancing when selling a property - read our guide to the legal process of selling a home
- Last updated: June 2016
- Updated by: Ian Robinson