When to use a probate specialist

It might seem easier to use a probate specialist to sort out the estate of someone who’s died. But this service comes at a cost. We’ll outline the circumstances when you should think about using a probate specialist and how to find one.

When should I use a probate specialist?

It is quite common for a relative or friend to take on the job of executor or administrator to get probate themselves. Many find that it’s easier than they expected. And it gives them the time to deal with their grief as they sort out the estate.

However, you may 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 deceased died without a will, and it’s a complicated estate to administer.
  • There are doubts about the validity of the will.
  • The deceased had dependents who were deliberately left out of the will but who may 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).
  • There are doubts that the estate is bankrupt.
  • The estate includes foreign property or foreign assets.
  • The deceased resided outside the UK for tax purposes.

How much do probate services cost?

Some probate specialists charge an hourly rate while others charge a fee that is 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 is probably 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 who 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 Which? website.

Finding a probate specialist

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

But you don’t have to use them - you’re well within your rights to shop around for another solicitor or specialist accountant, or use one you already know.

Remember to compare quotes when you shop around for a probate specialist. You could even use these competing quotes to negotiate for a cheaper fee with your preferred specialist.

Directories of probate specialists

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

Things to watch out for

Below is 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, you should expect revisions to this figure as the work progresses. Consequently, you might want to prepare for a higher bill than initially estimated.

More firms now, before they accept the work, ask you to complete a detailed fact-finding questionnaire. 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 from their quote by very much.

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

There are some fees - known as disbursement costs - that you will 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 is sometimes necessary to sell off assets, such as property, when administering the estate. As such, there are usually valuation and conveyancing fees which are additional to the quote you receive.

Remember to ask how much the disbursement fees are, and also for a clear rate for these additional 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 may increase the bill by quite a bit.

4. Bank as a co-executor

If the deceased used a bank to draw up their will and appointed them as a co-executor. They may 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 may have to apply to the court to remove them.