What to Do When Someone Dies: Do You Need a Probate Solicitor?

When someone dies, it’s a very stressful, emotional time, especially if they were a close relative or family member. However, there are some procedures that must be done immediately, and some things that are legally required.

A question that always arises is, do I need a solicitor to apply for probate? In some circumstances, it is possible to apply for probate yourself but in other cases, where there’s no will or the deceased’s estate is complex, getting help from a solicitor is the best policy.

Steps to take when someone dies

Whether the deceased died at home, in hospital, in a care home or even abroad, the doctor attending will issue you with a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death. This is possibly one of the most important documents you will need.

● Register the death – you will need to register the death within 5 days, or 8 days if in Scotland. The 5-day period includes weekends and bank holidays. You will need to register the death at your local Register Office, if they died at home, or the Register Office local to the hospital/care home. Only a close relative can register the death, but if no relatives are available, it can be done by someone who was present when the person died, someone who lives in the house where the person died or someone who is arranging the funeral (but not the funeral director).

● Arrange the funeral – this can only take place after the death has been registered. It can be arranged by a funeral director on your behalf, or you can organise it yourself. In some cases, the deceased may have made their own funeral arrangements before they died.

● Advise relevant government departments – whether they are receiving benefits, allowances or a state pension, or if they are still working, you will need to notify the relevant government departments. This can be done using the Government’s Tell Us Once online service.

● Bereavement benefits – you may be eligible to receive financial support, such as the Bereavement Support payment or Guardian’s Allowance.

● Benefits, pensions and taxes – if your spouse/civil partner has died, you will need to manage theirs and your own benefits, pensions and taxes.

● Hear the will (if there is one) and deal with their estate – you may need to apply for grant of probate or letters of administration. If the deceased left a will, it advises who the beneficiaries are and other details. If there is no will, the estate will need to be valued.

Applying for probate

Whilst it isn’t compulsory in England and Wales, many people use a solicitor to apply for probate. There are quite a few legal procedures that need to be adhered to and having a solicitor handle the matter for you can greatly ease the burden, particularly if the deceased was your spouse/civil partner or close relative.

If probate is required and not applied for, the deceased’s estate cannot be accessed nor transferred to their beneficiaries and sits in limbo. Probate grants legal authority to the person that applies for it to deal with the deceased’s estate. It’s not wise to assume that assets are in joint names; it is better to check all the relevant details.

DIY probate

If you are named an executor in their will, or if there is no will but you are their next of kin, you will be responsible for completing probate for their estate. The probate process can be a lengthy process, time-consuming and if the deceased’s estate is large and/or complex, there is the potential to make mistakes, which will cause further delays and you could be held legally or financially responsible.

In some cases, using a solicitor to apply for probate may not be necessary. For example, if there is no property, land, shares or investments as part of the estate and is worth less than £5,000, and whether the deceased owned the estate outright or in joint names. But in most situations, the deceased’s bank, building society or any other financial firm may insist on probate to close their accounts and release any funds. If you choose to apply for grant of probate yourself, complete the necessary forms, including the value of the estate, working out how much inheritance tax (IHT) is due and making the payment to HMRC, liquidate (sell) any assets and distribute the estate to beneficiaries. You can opt for a DIY Probate Pack, which can be bought online, and includes all the relevant documents to be completed and provide informative guidelines on how to apply for probate. However, be aware that there is no legal support network to offer advice should an issue arise during estate administration.

Probate through a solicitor

If the deceased’s estate’s value is in excess of £5,000, including property, land, investments or shares, or a business that needs to be liquidated, or if there is no will, using a solicitor to apply for probate is the best option. Even if you are a named executor, working with a probate will take much of the burden off your shoulders and ensure you have the right legal advice on tap if you need it.

A probate solicitor will handle applying for grant of probate, or letters of administration if there is no will, as well as deal with all the legal, tax and estate administration processes. If the deceased’s estate is large or complex, i.e. involves multiple properties, extensive investments and trusts, the deceased may well have put the estate administration process into the hands of a solicitor as part of his wishes in their will.

One word of warning; some banks and solicitors have been known to charge relatives around 6% of the total value of the estate. Legally, this is not part of the probate or estate administration procedure. If you are choosing to use a solicitor to help you with the probate process, select one that offers a fixed probate fee upfront.

At Probates Online, we offer a professional probate service online that is efficient and affordable. If you are an Executor of a will or close relative of a deceased person, and you need to apply for a Grant of Probate or would like to take advantage of our entire Estate Administration service, visit our website for more information or contact us today.