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How much does probate cost?

Our People - Andrew Guile
13 March, 2024

Anyone who has been involved in applying for a grant of probate and administering an estate after someone’s death, will know that the process is always time consuming and can also be complex when various issues are involved such as inheritance tax, trusts, foreign assets and missing beneficiaries.

These complexities can significantly impact the cost of probate, and if solicitors are involved in the process, their fees can range from £2,000 – £5,000 for simpler estates to anywhere up to £20,000 – £30,000 or more in particularly complex cases. In many cases, the higher the value of the deceased person’s estate, the higher the legal costs are likely to be.

What factors can influence the cost of probate?

  • The value of the estate
  • The complexity of the estate
  • When there is no will
  • Ownership of property
  • Inheritance tax due
  • Any disputes or contests
  • The executor’s role
  • Legal assistance

The Value of the Estate

If an estate is of high value (i.e. over £1M) then, unless all of that value is in one bank account or in a single property, the likelihood is that there will be property, shares, other investments, Premium Bonds, bank accounts, etc. It is for these reasons that higher value estates normally involve there being more work to do as there are more financial institutions to contact and liaise with.

High value estates also are more likely to have to pay inheritance tax and are more likely to have to file the IHT400 tax forms with HMRC. This involves much more work than smaller, non-tax bearing estates.

The Complexity of the Estate

An estate is normally deemed to be complex due to its value and the number and variety of different assets held by the deceased. However, additional complexity can also stem from there being foreign assets, claims against the estate, Inheritance tax being payable, other tax uncertainties, issues with trusts, conflict between executors and/or executors and beneficiaries and a great many other factors.

When there is no Will

Estates don’t have to be more complex and expensive where there is no will but it is often the case that they are. One main reason for this is that when someone dies without a will, they are said to have died ‘intestate’ and the law of intestacy applies to their assets. This dictates that the assets are divided between certain family members.

The intricacies of who gets what are too complex for this article. For instance, problems can occur when the law says that the deceased’s assets are to be divided equally between their brothers and sisters and one or more of the brothers and sisters cannot be found, or you discover that there may be a brother or sister that you didn’t previously know existed.

The administrators of the estate have a duty to identify the correct beneficiaries and can be held personally liable if they get it wrong and distribute the assets to the wrong people or miss someone out. That’s why ascertaining the correct beneficiaries is important.

There can also, occasionally be disputes as to who should apply for the grant of Letters of Administration (the court order that gives a person the legal right to administer the estate). A valid will appoints executors, removing this potential point of conflict.

Ownership of Property

If a deceased person owned one or more properties, it introduces various complexities and potential costs into the probate process. From valuing the property to addressing mortgages, debts, and the actual transfer of ownership, each step requires careful consideration, will involve liaising with estate agents and solicitors involved in the sale, all of which contribute to the overall expenses associated with probate.

If there is foreign property, it becomes even more complex and time-intensive as foreign lawyers are normally needed to help or advise on the laws of the country where the property is located and what the foreign law says about how the property can or must be inherited (which might take precedence over a UK will where the will and the foreign law conflict) and what procedures need to be followed to allow the property to be transferred into someone else’s name and/or sold.

Inheritance Tax Due

Where Inheritance tax is payable, an estate will need to file the IHT400 tax form (and various schedules linked to the IHT400) with HMRC before a grant of probate can be applied for. This not only involves additional time to complete the tax forms but, often, there are a considerable number of enquiries that need to be made regarding the estate assets in order to accurately populate the forms with the necessary information.

Any Disputes and Contests

One critical aspect that can substantially impact the cost of probate is disputes among beneficiaries or where someone contests the validity of the will. When conflicts arise, the probate process tends to extend, leading to increased legal fees and administrative expenses. Efficient resolution of these disputes becomes paramount to mitigate the overall costs associated with probate.

The Executor’s Role

The executor, appointed in the will to manage the estate, may choose to handle the probate process personally or engage professionals. If professional assistance is sought, it can contribute to increased costs. This article focuses primarily on the costs associated with solicitors being instructed to act for the executors or administrators.

Legal Assistance

Many executors and administrators seek help from solicitors with the probate process. Legal fees can vary widely depending upon how much or how little of the process the executors or administrators want the solicitors to advise upon and what work they ask them to conduct.

It is possible for the executors of a will and/or administrators of an estate to value the estate and provide the valuation of the assets to the solicitors who then use that information to submit an application for the grant of probate. Using solicitors to that limited extent will keep costs down. However, the solicitors fees will rise considerably if they are asked to identify and value the estate assets, then apply for the grant of probate and then, following the issuing of the grant, to collect the assets and distribute them to the beneficiaries. 

How much can probate cost with a solicitor?

It’s very important to note that this can vary widely between solicitors and also between the types and sizes of estates. We have set out below examples of our cost estimates for different types and sizes of estate.

Probate cost of a Basic Estate

  • 1 property
  • 2–4 bank/financial institution accounts and/or investments in the UK
  • A valid will
  • No liabilities and no inheritance tax payable
  • Up to 4 beneficiaries
  • Estate value £50,000 – £100,000 (+ property value)

Our cost estimate for a basic estate is approximately £2,500 – £3,500 (plus VAT and disbursements).

Probate cost of a Standard Estate

  • 1 property
  • 4–6 bank/financial institution accounts
  •  A valid will
  •  1–2 liabilities
  •  Up to 4 beneficiaries
  •  Estate value £250,000 – £300,000

Our cost estimate for a standard estate is approximately £4,000 – £5,500 (plus VAT and disbursements).

Probate cost of a Complex Estate

  • 1 property
  • 6–8 bank/financial institution accounts
  • No will (intestate)
  • Up to 4 beneficiaries
  • Estate value £600,000 – £800,000

Our cost estimate for a complex estate is approximately £8,000 – £12,000 (plus VAT and disbursements).

Probate cost of a High Value Complex Estate

  • 8–12 bank/financial institution accounts
  • A valid will
  • 4–6 beneficiaries
  • Estate value £2,000,000 – £2,500,000

Our cost estimate for a high value complex estate is approximately £20,000 – £25,000 (plus VAT and disbursements).

Are there any additional costs like disbursements?

Disbursements are expenses that a solicitor pays on your behalf. During probate, these expenses commonly include:

  • Land Registry fee of £3
  • Bankruptcy search fees of £36
  • Financial Asset search fees of approximately £180
  • Court fee of £273 (for application of the Grant) and £1.50 for each sealed copy
  • Statutory advertisement fees of approximately £200 (if required).

These are disbursements of the estate and are paid once funds are available.

While the cost of probate can vary, how long the probate process takes can also depend on several factors. If you are a personal representative of an estate and need help with probate, please contact one of our specialist Probate Solicitors or call us on 020 8492 2290.

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