Do I need a probate solicitor?
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 whether to do it yourself.
Generally, it's worth considering using a probate solicitor if you're dealing with a complex estate. Cases where this applies include:
- where the will may be disputed, or there are questions about its validity.
- situations where a dependent was deliberately left out of the will, but may want to make a claim.
- there are complex arrangements, such as assets held in trust, or requests to create a trust.
- the estate is bankrupt, or insolvent (in other words, their debts are worth more than their assets).
- the deceased lived outside the UK, or passed away outside the UK.
- the estate includes foreign property or assets.
The fees to pay the probate solicitor are usually taken out of the estate funds.
Otherwise, you might be able to manage probate yourself - see our guide to DIY probate.
Need help with probate? Download our free checklist from Which? Legal to help you through the process.
Where can I find a probate solicitor?
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.
If you live in England or Wales, the Law Society has a directory of solicitors who can help with probate. For Scottish residents, the Scottish Law Society has a similar directory. The equivalent in Northern Ireland can be found here.
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.
Probate solicitors costs
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
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-finder 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 over 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.
Fixed-fee probate solicitors
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.
- Need help with probate? You can download a free checklist from Which? Legal.
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
Your essential probate checklist
If you'd like to manage probate yourself, Which? Legal can help you navigate the process.
Find out what steps you need to follow with our downloadable probate checklist.