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Should you avoid a solicitor when dealing with a loved one’s estate?

DIY probate rising in popularity, finds Which?

DIY probate

Two thirds of the executors surveyed opted for DIY probate

Do-it-yourself probate is a simple process for most people who try it, according to a new Which? survey.

In November 2016, we surveyed 583 Which? members who had acted as an executor in the last two years to find out how easy they found the process.

Two thirds (67%) of them opted for DIY probate, rising to eight in 10 (79%) when it came to dealing with the latter stages of the process, such as distributing assets.

What’s more, 73% of DIYers said the process was easy.

  • Our legal service Which? Legal can guide you through each step of the probate process. Call the team on 01992 825 001 to find out more

DIY probate vs. using a solicitor

Probate is the legal process for dealing with the estate of someone who has died. It’s the responsibility of the executors named in their will.

If you’re the executor of a will, you can save thousands by handling the process yourself rather than paying a solicitor.

In Which?’s survey, the main reasons cited for undertaking DIY probate were:

  • to avoid unnecessary expense (84%)
  • to keep control (63%)
  • to avoid delays (43%)

Many executors may turn to a solicitor for help for more complicated estates, but that doesn’t necessarily make it an easy process. In fact, only 47% of our survey’s respondents that used a solicitor said this was the case. 

Find out more: DIY probate – see our comprehensive guide

Dealing with the banks

A large part of the probate process involves dealing with the deceased’s bank. As part of our investigation, we also looked at how easy it was to deal with seven of the main high street banks. 

The table below shows how recent executors rated the main bank they dealt with, including the aspects of helpfulness and speed. 

Executor’s accounts generated many complaints. Some banks seemed unable to set them up, while others offered limited access.

Probate: best and worst banks
  Staff helpfulness Speed Overall satisfactiona
Lloyds Bank (104) 76%
Nationwide (50) 74%
Halifax (32) n/ab 72%
NatWest (69) 70%
Santander (63) 68%
Barclays (79) 67%
HSBC (62) 63%

Table notes
Survey of 583 Which? members in November 2016. who’d acted as am executor in the previous two years. a Shows the proportion of executors satisfied with their bank, dealing with the probate process. Sample size in brackets. b Too few responses to give a rating.

Richard Headland, editor of Which?, said: ‘DIY probate is something many executors undertake successfully, but they could do with a more consistent and helpful approach from banks. If you’re facing this situation, always ask questions along the way, especially if you encounter problems or delays. 

‘Also be wary of parting with original documents, get multiple copies for banks and other institutions.’

DIY probate – how to go it alone

Below, we list the five main steps an executor will need to work through.

1. Paying for the funeral

Although the funeral will normally take place before probate has been granted, the bank can agree to make a direct payment from the deceased’s bank account to the funeral director to cover these expenses. This is done under a direct payment scheme that many – but not all – banks belong to.

2. Applying for a grant of probate

A grant of probate confirms the executor’s legal right to take control of the deceased’s estate. Until it has been issued, bank accounts and investments normally remain frozen. To apply for probate you need to complete the relevant form, pay an administration fee and swear a formal oath. 

3. Paying the inheritance tax

Paying the inheritance tax is the catch 22 of probate – you have to make the payment before you’re granted probate – but you don’t control the deceased’s money until after you’re granted it. 

In the past, many executors had to borrow money to pay the tax bill, but now the same direct payment scheme used to cover funeral costs can be used. The bank needs proof of your executor status and a completed inheritance tax form 423, available from HMRC and the government website.

4. Opening and using an executor account

An essential part of the executor’s role is gathering together the deceased’s assets. Once you have obtained a grant of probate, you can do this most conveniently by paying everything into a single bank account. An executor’s account is designed for this purpose and is also used for settling any debts on behalf of the deceased.

5. Distributing assets to beneficiaries

The final duty of an executor is to wind up the estate and make payments out to beneficiaries. It’s your duty to do this in accordance with the terms of the will. Make sure you have the correct details for each person involved and get them to sign receipts of any payments you make.

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