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When to use a legal specialist for probate

It can be expensive to use a probate specialist or lawyer. Find out how much they charge, when to consider using a specialist and how to find one.

Should I use a probate specialist?

While there are some situations when you might need an expert (more details below), a relative or friend often takes on the job of executor to get probate themselves.

It’s often easier than people expect and can save thousands of pounds.

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When do I need a probate specialist?

A probate specialist might be a solicitor or an accountant.

You might want to think about using a probate specialist if:

  • the value of the estate is over the Inheritance Tax threshold and the estate is still earning a regular income where there are complicated taxes due. The threshold for the 2021/22 tax year is £325,000. 
  • the deceased died without a will, and it’s a complicated estate to sort out
  • there are doubts about the validity of the will
  • the deceased had dependants who were deliberately left out of the will, but who might want to make a claim on the estate
  • the estate has complex arrangements, such as assets held in a trust
  • the estate is bankrupt (also known as insolvent)
  • the estate is bankrupt
  • the estate includes foreign property or foreign assets
  • the deceased lived outside the UK for tax purposes.

How much do probate services cost?

Some probate specialists and solicitors charge an hourly rate, while others charge a fee that’s a percentage of the value of the estate.

This fee is usually calculated as between 1% to 5% of the value of the estate, plus VAT.

The table below is an example of how much you could end up paying for their service. This total doesn’t include court or application fees, so the final bill will probably be higher.

Value of estate
Fees
VAT
Total payable

£100,000

£1,000 (1% of estate value)

£200

£1,200

£100,000

£5,000 (5% of estate value)

£1,000

£6,000

Some probate specialists charge both an hourly rate and a percentage fee. But this doesn’t always mean they’re more expensive.

There are also a few probate specialist companies that charge a fixed fee for their services. They base it on an estimate of the volume of work involved. These companies claim to be cheaper than a traditional solicitor or accountant.

Most banks also offer probate and estate administration services. However, these services are often more expensive than using a solicitor or a specialist company.

You can get more information on probate specialists’ fees on The Gazette – Official Public Record website

Finding a probate solicitor or specialist

If you decide to use a probate specialist, it can be easier to use the solicitor that drew up the will or stored it.

But you don’t have to use them – you can shop around for another solicitor or specialist accountant.

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Directories of probate specialists

Use the links below to find a probate accountant or a solicitor:

Things to watch out for

Here’s a list of things to consider or watch out for when dealing with a probate specialist.

1. Rough estimate versus final bill

Many probate specialists are reluctant to give you a ‘binding’ estimate of their fees, giving you a ‘ballpark figure’ instead. If they give a ballpark figure, expect this to increase as the work progresses.

Some firms will ask you for more detailed information at the start about what you’ll need them to do, before they accept the work. This allows them to get a more accurate picture of the work involved and quote a fee accordingly. As a result, the final bill is less likely to differ too much from their quote.

2. Third party costs (disbursement costs) and service extras

There are some fees (known as disbursement costs) that you’ll have to pay as part of getting probate.

For example, the probate application fee or getting certified copies of certain documents.

With some estates, it’s sometimes necessary to sell off assets, such as property, when sorting out the estate.

This means there’ll be extra valuation and conveyancing fees on top of the quote you get.

Remember to ask how much the disbursement fees are, and also for a clear rate for these extra services.

3. Payment in stages and VAT

As the work progresses, many probate specialists expect payment at certain stages.

Some of these payments are for their services up to that stage, while others are for disbursement fees.

Before you agree to hire them, make sure that they clearly explain when payment is due and for how much.

You’ll also need to factor in VAT, if it isn’t included in the quote. The 20% VAT charge might increase the bill by quite a bit.

4. Bank as a co-executor

If the person who died used a bank to draw up their will and appointed them as a co-executor, they might suggest they act as a professional executor and carry out probate.

In fact, in the past some have tried to insist on this.

With this arrangement, the bank tends to charge a percentage of the value of the estate for their services.

In some estates, this could mean tens of thousands of pounds in service fees.

You could ask the bank to step down as executor, with the agreement of all beneficiaries.

But if the bank refuses to renounce its role, you might have to apply to the court to remove them.

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