DIY Probate- The pitfalls
Routes to applying
In the modern age it seems everyone has a smartphone and we spend an increasing amount of time on line looking at social media, shopping following the news and keeping in touch. Access to the internet is changing the way we all shop and buy services. Dealing on line can avoid travelling into shops offices travel agents and so on to do business and can save us all time and money. The digital age has even reached the probate process as the government overhauls the application procedure. There have always been two routes to apply for probate either through a probate solicitor or directly to the district probate registry by a personal application on payment of a higher fee. The government is now looking to close local probate registries and to roll out a new on-line process so that you will be able to order probate online in the same way as ordering groceries.
This may look like a tempting option to avoid the time and cost of dealing through solicitors. Such thoughts may however be false economies. There are a number of risks that you should be aware of, should you choose this route. Most of us will only deal with probate once in our lives if at all and would not regard ourselves as experts. Sometimes as with DIY plumbing or electrics it is best to pay a professional.
Administering an estate
Those administering an estate are personally liable for any mistakes they make in dealing with an estate. That is to say they have a responsibility to pay proper debts to creditors. They have duty to claim in and collect all the estate and to pay the correct amounts to the correct people. This is not always as straightforward as it seems. The will may be unclear and payments can be made in error as a result. In particular you check that the estate is solvent and that there are enough funds to covers debts such as HMRC.
It pays to do some research and understand your role before jumping into probate. Be aware however that some online information may be out of date, inaccurate or misleading.
Every estate is different but you should:
- Assess the total amount of assets and debts, remember there are special rules for joint asserts
- Pay all debts before paying out the estate – if you miss one you may have to pay it out of your pocket
- Delay distributing if you get word of a claim or dispute against the estate
- Check if any beneficiaries are bankrupt- you may be liable if you pay a share to a bankrupt person
- Consider asking an expert to prepare and verify the family tree (especially if there is no will)
- Prepare detailed accounts so that everyone can see how their share has been worked out.
Being an amateur is no defence to claims so it’s important to think carefully as to whether you have the skills and time to deal with an estate. If in doubt you should seek advice. Remember that the fees for such advice are valid estate expenses and so you do not need to pay them from your own pocket. Dealing with other people’s money can be onerous and is usually unpaid, those receiving a share of the estate may not be grateful of your efforts and may be critical of any delays. Finally, there can also be emotional issues arising out of grief or loss and difficult family dynamics to deal with in DIY probate.