Fixed Fee Probate – What is it?

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By Cai Bradley
Updated on Thursday 12 November 2020

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Handling the estate of someone who has died can be a complex and expensive process, particularly if there are no plans in place to cover the costs or manage administration. 

In order to be able to distribute the estate of a deceased person, you must apply for the grant of probate first.

Probate is a highly important process and one that can be very expensive, but our guide will help you understand what it entails and where to find the most affordable probate services in the UK, so that your loved ones aren’t left with the burden of handling it all without you when you eventually pass away.

In this guide:  

What is probate?

If someone dies with a legally valid will in place, the executor (who must be named in the will) needs to apply for probate before they can begin distributing the assets in line with the wishes of the deceased. But what exactly is probate?

Probate is a legal process that ‘proves’ a will in a court of law, and (in most cases) it must be completed before the executor distributes the estate of the person who has passed away. 

There are typically five stages to the process of handling someone’s finances after their death:

  1. Apply for probate

  2. Value the estate (including ALL assets left behind)

  3. Sort out inheritance tax

  4. Pay off debts

  5. Distribute the estate in-line with the will

These tasks can, however, be handled by a professional probate service so that your loved ones can grieve in peace, without having to deal with the stress of managing the whole process.

Note: If someone dies without a will (also known as dying ‘intestate’), an individual must apply to be an ‘administrator’ before they can legally distribute the estate. Friends or relatives can only handle a person’s estate once they have been granted ‘letters of administration’. 

Read more: The Benefits of Writing a Will  

When is probate required?

An individual needs a grant of probate before they can access any of the deceased’s estate that is valued above the minimum threshold (which can range from £5,000 to £50,000 between banks).

When is probate not needed? Probate is required under most circumstances, with the following being the only exceptions:  

  • The deceased only had jointly owned land, property, shares or money (as they will be handed over to the surviving owner)
  • The deceased only had savings or premium bonds (no land, property or shares)
  • The estate is valued below the probate threshold (this varies from £5,000 to £50,000)
  • The estate is insolvent (when debt, taxes and expenses are greater than the value of the assets)

How much does probate cost?

How much you pay for probate services depends on the specialist or solicitor you choose, with some charging a variable percentage fee and others charging a fixed fee. 

Note: The cost of probate often depends on the complexity and value of the estate.  

Here are varying examples of probate costs, with a comparison of prices from three different probate service providers to help you gain a better understanding of how much will be taken from your estate to cover the costs. 

Example 1:  

  • Properties: 1
  • Bank accounts: 2
  • Will: Valid
  • Liabilities: None
  • Beneficiaries: 4
  • Estate value: £145,000
  • Co-op Legal Service cost: £2,649
  • Slater + Gordon: £3,625 - £5,800
  • Services: £1,088

Example 2:  

  • Properties: 1
  • Bank accounts: 6
  • Will: Valid
  • Beneficiaries/personal reps: 4
  • Estate value: £240,000
  • Co-op Legal Service cost: £4,236
  • Slater + Gordon: £6,000 - £9,000
  • Services: £1,800

Example 3

  • Properties: 1
  • Bank accounts: 1
  • Will: Valid
  • Liabilities: None
  • Beneficiaries: 1
  • Estate value: £45,000
  • No Probate required

Example 4

  • Properties: 1
  • Bank accounts: 1
  • Will: Valid
  • Liabilities: None
  • Beneficiaries: 2
  • Estate value: £100,000
  • Co-op Legal Service cost: From £1,630
  • Slater + Gordon: £1,000 + VAT
  • Services: £995

If you’d prefer to know exactly how much money will be taken from your estate to cover the cost of probate when you pass away, you will need to use a fixed fee probate service

Read more: How Much Does it Cost to Make a Will?

Using fixed fee probate services  

It is possible to apply for probate without a solicitor or professional service, but we strongly advise against doing so due to the complexities that can arise, as well as the sheer effort and administration work that must be put into it. 

We recommend that you use a fixed fee probate service that has experts on hand to handle the whole process for you and your executors, and so that you know exactly how much money will be taken from your estate to cover the cost of probate when the time comes. 

This takes the burden away from your loved ones and ensures that the whole process is as hassle-free as possible. 

What is a fixed fee probate service? Some probate services offer what’s known as a ‘fixed fee’, which essentially means that you are quoted an amount or a percentage that will be taken from your estate to cover the costs of probate when you pass away. It is fixed and will not change, thus providing you with an invaluable peace of mind.

You could save thousands of pounds by using a fixed fee probate service, rather than a solicitor or company that charges a variable fee, and you get the peace of mind in knowing the exact amount that will be taken from your estate. 

How long does probate take to complete?

Probate can be granted or authorised within three to four weeks, but the entire process of handling the estate of someone who has passed away can take anything between six and twelve months.

There is no set timescale or time limit for the probate process; it often differs between each probate provider and can vary depending on the size and complexity of the estate. 

How to apply for probate

The most time and cost-effective way of handling an estate is to do so through a professional probate service

These services will handle the entire process of probate on your behalf and that of your loved ones, providing your friends and family with time to deal with your loss and enabling your executors to avoid the complex tasks often involved when distributing an estate. 

If you want to protect your estate and the future of your loved ones, be sure to write a will as soon as you feel it is necessary.  

Read our related guides for more information on probate, will-writing and estates below, or start planning your future with an online will-writing company today. 

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