Wills and Probate – Very Expensive?
Getting your will drawn up and using professionals to administer a deceased relative’s estate can be traumatic, expensive, costly and very time consuming. However, there are cheaper options available on the internet for will writing, Lasting Power of Attorneys (LPAs), and also administering estates (i.e. handling the probate of a dead relative).
How Much Does Will Writing Cost?
If you go to a high street solicitor and ask for a will to be drawn up then you’re probably looking at a price of around £200 to £300 mark for a couple.
How Much Do Lasting Power of Attorneys Cost?
Lasting Power of Attorneys (LPAs) are simply government documents which give other people permission to act in your best interests, whether this is financial or medical. You can either ask a solicitors firm to do this for you or you can simply visit the government website, fill out a few forms yourself and hey presto, for very little money (the fee recently was £82), you can have two documents drawn up to give two other people authority over your affairs should you be rendered incapacitated due to ill health or other reason. Be very wary about paying anyone to do this for you because the service is so simple, even your 95 year old mother who is not able to use a computer can probably write her own LPA.
If you ask a solicitor to prepare your LPAs – you prepare two which will then give somebody the control of your affairs both medically and financially if you become incapacitated – you can probably add an extra £600 to your solicitors’ bill. The work solicitors do preparing Lasting Power of Attorneys is extremely lucrative as it is usually very straightforward.
What Does Probate Cost?
If a relative dies and you use a professional to handle the probate then you are probably looking at a charge from one to five percent of the value of the estate.
There are cheaper alternatives.
Low Cost Will Writing
Firstly, do not be deceived into thinking that a company of will writers is going to be cheaper than a firm of solicitors. Will writers traditionally will try and sell you just about everything and more, including the kitchen sink when it comes to drafting a very simple document from those people. Firstly they will try and add insurance to the cost, storage charges, ongoing assessments of your will, administration costs, financial advice costs, and they may even try to hook you up with a Financial Adviser who may attempt to take you to the cleaners by taking as much of your savings as possible. You should try and avoid will writers unless they are doing it at the same sort of price as your local firm of solicitors, who are quite capable of doing the job if not better as they are more qualified and knowledgeable generally.
DIY Will Writing
If your affairs are very straightforward you can write a will yourself. Alternatively there are cost effective services online that can make things very simple and cheap for you. Guidance on DIY wills is available on the Gov.uk website. One online service that keeps costs down is Farewills (no link to us) who are a national service offering low cost wills, handle probate and even provide budget cremation and funeral services, undercutting expensive funeral directors.
Writing a Will Yourself
Writing a will yourself is extremely easy and there are guides written by Which? (the consumer association) on how to do this. You simply need a template, which you can get online or pop down to your local stationery store to purchase and fill it out. If your estate is worth less than a few hundred thousand pounds (i.e. you just have a house with a bit of money in the bank), then it may be worth considering this route because it will save you a few hundred pounds in legal fees. If your estate is more complicated than this and you have more than one marriage, lots of relatives, relatives you want to exclude from the will or other such similar issues, then you may be better consulting with a local firm of solicitors and paying the few hundred pounds for peace of mind.
Lasting Power of Attorneys
The gov.uk website has a full guide on LPAs and you can immediately save £100s by doing this yourself.
To write your LPA you simply need a few documents to hand, including your National Insurance number, various dates and a bit of patience filling out what is a very long and lengthy form online. You do not need to pay anyone to do this for you, and this one piece of advice could save you in the region of about £600 or £700 in solicitors’ fees. Do not fall for any tricks of will writers or financial advisers in trying to sell your insurance backed products linked to Lasting Power of Attorneys, and do not fall for any wrong advice that you need a professional adviser to fill it out for you. This is all untrue. You can do a Lasting Power of Attorney yourself, and they are very easy to use, and the worst that can happen is you go wrong and you get an email off the government telling you how to fix it.
The next area of wills and probate that you can save money on is probate.
Probate is an extremely easy process to sort out. It is basically the administration of a dead person’s belongings and assets, and the distribution of those to the beneficiaries under any will that has been written, and failing that, the distribution of assets according to intestacy laws applicable in the relevant jurisdiction you are in. The UK government guide to obtaining probate is here. The fee for applying for probate is free if the estate is less than £5,000 and £215 (in 2020) for an estate worth more than £5,000.
What Happens if My Relative Died Without a Will?
If you do not know if your dead relative has a will then you can have a look for it at their property, or make enquiries with Certainty, the National Will Registry.
There is also a very helpful DIY government website advising you on the rights that will accrue to various relatives under intestacy laws. You do not need legal advice in order to be able to use this; it is very straightforward and explains exactly who and how the money should be distributed to.
Once you have established if there is a will then you can apply for probate online using the government service, which again is a fairly long but simple process that you can do yourself. You can commence with the disposal of the deceased person’s assets and distribute the funds to the beneficiaries under the will.
Again, this is quite a straightforward exercise for most estates because the vast majority of people in the UK do not have high levels of assets or complex wills. In most cases the money raised from the sale of the assets of the estate simply go to the surviving spouse of the dead person, and failing that to the few beneficiaries listed in the will. This is very often a quick and easy exercise of simply selling a house, disposing of a car and emptying and closing a few bank accounts.
Why would you need a Probate (Private Client) Lawyer to help you do this?
A professional probate lawyer is probably needed if the estate is complex and involves all kinds of different trusts, investments, business interests, assets that need identifying and all sorts of other things thrown into the mix including excluding beneficiaries. However, you can save quite literally thousands of pounds by doing most of the probate work yourself, and retain control over the estate rather than handing it on to someone else to deal for you.
Avoid letting any banks do your probate work for you. They are costly and over-expensive. The best way is very often to allow probate solicitors, regulated by the Law Society, to undertake the work. Make sure you agree costs with them before they start.
Whilst there are clearly situations when a wills and probate solicitor or lawyer will be extremely helpful to you and your family when it comes to writing wills, handling the affairs of dead people, writing Lasting Powers of Attorney, there are a whole load of situations when you can quite comfortably do this yourself and save you and your family considerable amounts of money.
Finally, a word on funeral directors – they are not your friends; they are there to make money as they are a business. Shop around, get a good deal and think very carefully before paying for optional extras that are going to have very little relevance to the deceased person. For example, do you really need a beautifully prepared coffin or could you get away with a budget version and spend the money instead on more food at the wake? There are DIY services for cremation and funerals, and if you are minded to go down this route you can save considerable amounts of money, although it’s highly possible the whole thing will be more stressful than it is worth!
Jonathan Fagan is MD of Ten-Percent.co.uk Limited and TP Recruitment Limited, a set of websites involved in a range of recruitment work. Jonathan has been running small businesses for over 20 years and has a number of interests and investments in companies as diverse as transcription, legal recruitment and a bit of marketing. He is an author of a number of guides and books, together with a children’s novel. In his spare time he enjoys playing golf, cricket, coaching girls’ football, operating a parent taxi, lots of running and paddleboarding on Bala Lake and the River Dee. He is a strong believer in a good work-life balance and regular blogs on making money vs enjoying life. Jonathan’s website is https://www.jonathanfagan.co.uk