The short answer is yes, you can. Whether you would really want to do it, if you knew what was involved, is a completely different matter. Thinking that you can do probate is a bit like a solicitor thinking that they can do their tax return without any input from an accountant. They may be able to file their tax return by the 31st of January and even answer queries with HMRC, but ask them if they would do it again next year and the majority would give an emphatic no.

Online probate application system

The good news for people appointed as executors of a Will is that the court service has announced an online probate application system for us if:

  • The deceased died with a Will ; and
  • The deceased was a permanent resident in England or Wales; and
  • The Will appointed up to four executors; and
  • The executors have the original Will.

The online probate system allows the executors to start the probate application process online by applying, paying and submitting the probate application. However, after the application is submitted online further enquiries and progressing the administration of the estate is dealt with offline, by traditional post and phone.

Can you do probate without a solicitor?

I guess, for me, the question is not whether you can do Probate without a solicitor but whether you should do it. I am not saying that because I am a solicitor who specialised in Wills, tax and probate but because I do not believe that if you appoint a loved one as an executor the last thing that they need at a time of bereavement is the stress and worry of sorting out the probate of a friend or relative.

What is more, if you are an executor, and you get things wrong, you are personally liable for your mistakes. Many people may think that is unfair as after all the executor was only trying to save the estate money by doing the work themselves, but if it goes wrong it will be the executor, rather than the estate or beneficiaries, who will end up paying for the error.

You may think, ‘what could possible go wrong with a bit of paperwork?’; it is not until you have sat down and started to fill in a tax return or a probate application that you realise just how complicated it can get. With probate applications, executors can run the risk of:

  • Failing to pay the right amount of estate tax; or
  • Not paying a debt that was due before distributing the money from the estate; or
  • Failing to pay the right amount of estate tax or;
  • Not paying a debt that was due before distributing the money from the estate; or
  • Paying a residuary beneficiary too much for the estate; or
  • Facing complaints by a residuary beneficiary, such as a charity, that the money raised should have been more, as the sale of property or other assets was not handled; or
  • Facing someone challenging the Will because they say it was not drawn up correctly, was signed under duress, was signed when the deceased did not have capacity to sign a Will, or because the Will did not make adequate provision for them.

Taking probate legal advice

The best advice for anyone thinking about dealing with probate without help from a specialist probate solicitor is to get advice on whether they think it is OK to try. A good probate solicitor will tell you if probate is even needed and, if it is, whether there are warning signs to suggest that you will need expert help such as if:

  • The deceased owned his own business, either as a partner in a firm or company director; or
  • The deceased has left all or part of his estate to charity; or
  • The estate has complicated assets in it, such as buy to let property portfolio; or
  • The deceased has left his estate to minor children and there are trusts involved or;
  • The deceased has a complicated personal life, perhaps with a former spouse or new partner, and there is a risk that the Will may be challenged on the basis that it does not contain adequate financial provision; or
  • The deceased has a complicated financial life with lots of debts that will need to be sorted out before the estate is distributed; or
  • You know that there is a risk that you will find the process of acting as an executor and handling the probate yourself too distressing during a time of bereavement or you think there risk a risk that you will fall out with sibling executors unless a professional handles the probate reports to all family executors.

If you need help in deciding whether or not to handle a probate then give us a call to discuss the estate and your options. IF the estate is small, you may not need probate. If you do need probate and you are the major beneficiary of the estate, you may think it worthwhile to try and use the new online service. We are happy to help you make that decision based on what is right for you. If you do decide to ask us to deal with the estate then we can handle it entirely so there is no stress or can work as a team with you.