Tony Crocker

Tony Crocker is Director of IWC Estate Planning & Management Ltd. With over 15 years’ experience, he is knowledgeable and proficient in all matters regarding Probate, Will writing, Estate Planning and Inheritance tax avoidance. In addition, he has a wealth of experience in dealing with estate settlements and issues with the capital taxes office in the event of bereavement. As a member of the Society of Will Writers & Estate Planning Practitioners, he is widely respected within the field, having helped many people at difficult points in their lives through complex probate and tax issues. Tony Crocker

Probate Fees and Disbursements

Disbursements are simply extra charges, they are normally the costs incurred by a company to handle a case. For example, a conveyancer will charge a fee, plus disbursements – these are normally the charges to carry out property searches and obtain certificates etc. In the case of probate fees, disbursements could be newspaper notices, valuing or disposing of estate assets.
 
When looking for a probate company and considering quotes is important to be aware that even a company who offers a fixed fee, will probably make extra charges. You need to be sure of exactly what the service includes. Here are some examples of services which may incur extra charges:
Identity verification
Bankruptcy searches
Newspaper notices
Probate clearance
Probate valuations
Property services
Court fees
 
Find out more about the cost of probate
 
If the net estate value is over £5,000, you’ll also need to factor in Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) fees.  For estates valued over this amount, a fee £105 applies. Plus, HMCTS make charges for every official, sealed copy of the grant of probate or letters of administration you require. They are £1 each but you’ll be charged more if you need extra copies after the grant has been issued.
 
It’s important to scrutinise these terms because some companies will add on extras for professional time, phone-calls, stationary, faxing, emailing. Here are some real life examples;
 
10 minute telephone call with client
Receiving an email instruction
Sending a fax
Replying to query by letter
Postage costs
30 minute consultation with client
 
As executor, you are responsible for managing the estate and may be being blamed by beneficiaries for spiralling legal costs which eat into their inheritance. It’s important to read all small print and make sure the probate fees you’ve been quoted are genuine, without any extras. This way, you won’t end up with a shock when you receive the final bill. 

Probate fees and the rise of DIY

The number of grants of probate issued to solicitors has dropped significantly. The latest figures from the probate office show that 56% of all grants were issued to private individuals in 2011. This is a massive increase on 2010, when just 36% were personal applications. 
 
Many probate practitioners are of the view that these figures do not accurately reflect the real picture. Just because someone applies for probate individually, doesn’t mean they haven’t had legal advice or sought professional assistance. It is not uncommon for people to employ the use of a solicitor after probate has been obtained to ensure that their executors’ duties are carried out correctly, saving them the time. An estate administration service may include closing bank accounts, informing utility companies, maintaining a set of accounts for the estate and even the sale of property. This can simply be too time-consuming for an executor to fit into their busy life.
 
The fall in the number of people who use a professional to apply for probate began in 2006. This indicates a direct correlation with the start of the recession.   Falling property prices are a likely contributing factor in the decline of solicitor probate applications. This has resulted in fewer estates being valued above the threshold. Similarly, there has been a reduction in more complex estates where inheritance tax is due. Perhaps, individuals feel more confident about DIY probate when there’s no necessity to complete a full inheritance tax return and deal with HMRC. 
 
The internet has also led to the availability of downloadable DIY probate kits. These empower the executor to take matters into their own hands rather than being reliant on a legal practitioner. Doing-it-yourself enables you to save money on probate fees. However, it is only recommended in straightforward cases, with uncomplicated estates. Mistakes can be costly and executors can be held personally liable. Common problems include; undervaluing the estate, under paying tax or failing to trace missing heirs.
 
The Probate Service states that it includes solicitors, notaries or barristers in its statistics. However, it is not necessary to be a fully qualified solicitor to offer professional probate services. It is not clear whether figures include applications made by professional practitioners who are not actually firms of solicitors. Therefore, whether these percentages are a true reflection of the rise in DIY probate is questionable. 
 
The continued negative publicity of the probate fees charged by some banks and solicitors could account for the decline in the uptake of their services. The practice of charging percentage fees based on estate value, is becoming archaic. Solicitors, who traditionally charge an hourly rate will not necessarily be competitive in today’s marketplace. More people are choosing low-cost, fixed fee probate services offered by specialist practitioners. These may not be included in the figures released by HM Courts and Tribunals Service.
 
For more information visit the HMCTS Probate Service.

What is an interim grant?

An interim grant is usually approved by the Court if there is some sort of contention during the probate process, allowing an independent third party to continue working on the administration until the problem reaches a conclusion.
 
The interim grant is only permitted to be in force during the period of the Court case and tends to be given to an accountant or solicitor. During this time, the individual administering the Estate cannot begin to distribute any assets. Their job is solely to protect the assets contained within the Estate.
 
So, regardless of whether or not a Caveat has been registered with the Probate Registry in an attempt to halt the process, the deceased’s Estate will continue to be administered with outstanding bills being paid and daily tasks being carried out as normal, until the probate dispute has been resolved.

Renouncing executorship and power reserved – what do they mean?

If the executor of a Will is unable to fulfil their duties after the person has died, they are sometimes forced to renounce their responsibility by signing a “deed of renunciation” which will usually have been drafted by their probate professional and filed with the Probate Office.
 
This is a process which can often delay probate. If there are other named executors, they can continue with the probate process. However, if the person who signed the deed of renunciation was the sole or last executor, a beneficiary will then need to administer the estate if a Will is in existence.
 
If no Will was ever written, the rules of intestacy determine who shall act as administrator, with the responsibilities of administering the Estate being passed along the line of beneficiaries until one accepts. 
 
A word of caution here however – if the existing executor has already taken part in any aspect of the probate process, they cannot simply decide to then give up their duties and will not be permitted to renounce.
 
Power reserved” can only take place if a Will has been written and is often used if one of the executors lives overseas or a considerable distance away and cannot play a principal role in the administration of the Estate. Instead, other executors will take over the main aspects of the administration, with opportunity for the other person to step in at a later date if necessary.

What if I don’t want to be executor?

Being an executor means that you are personally responsible for administering and distributing your loved one’s Estate accurately.
 
It can take up a considerable amount of time and is sometimes stressful, so if you feel that someone else would be better placed to be executor, you can be refused when you are first asked by the testator.
 
If you initially agreed to be executor for fear of upsetting the testator, you can still then turn down the role in the event of their death.
 
However, if you’ve already begun to administer the Estate and are part way through the probate process, you cannot decide to revoke your rights if you find that the process is too challenging without formally renouncing your position. This is carried out by notifying the Probate Office.
 
If you are unsure about the role, duties and responsibilities of an executor and are reluctant to accept the position; it is better to notify the testator at the time you are asked, rather than delay the probate process and make it even more upsetting for the beneficiaries at this potentially vulnerable time.

Contentious probate – when a Will is contested

Complicated family structures can result in an undignified battle when it comes to the delicate matter of inheritance; as seen recently in the media, when the partner of a millionaire spent six years in legal dispute with the children of her former boyfriend.
 
Ramadan Guney, who owned the UK’s largest cemetery, had six grown up children, then fathered another child with his new partner.
 
On his death, Mr Guney left a £28 million fortune which was then fought over by the six children and Mr Guney’s partner, who wanted to claim “reasonable financial provision” against his Estate.
 
The battle became extremely ugly, with the children claiming their father had had a vasectomy 30 years previously and questioning the parentage of the other youngest son. In turn, Ms Holiday, Mr Gurney’s partner, claimed that the six siblings had tried to kill her. The situation became so bad that Mr Gurney’s grown up children claimed that their father had in fact been murdered, and had his body exhumed.
 
Finally, despite the outlandish claims from both sides, the Court agreed with Ms Holiday and awarded her £60,000 per year from the Estate, along with the cemetery, valued between £700,000 and £1.2 million.
 
Prevent any bad blood occurring between your family members by not only keeping your Will updated but by maintaining a memorandum, which will explain your wishes and reasons behind the content of your Will.

Claiming reasonable financial provision

Unfortunately, it sometimes happens that children and individuals are left out of a Will, despite normally being considered as principal beneficiaries.
 
With a dramatic increase in the number of people looking to fund their retirement and family life on the basis of an expected inheritance, feelings then can run high if they subsequently discover they have been left nothing.
 
The Provision for Family and Dependents Act 1975 states that anyone in this position (particularly children of deceased parents) who are left with nothing, can make a claim against the deceased’s Estate if they are left financially destitute.
 
If the deceased is judged to have not left reasonable financial provision for their children; or perhaps a vulnerable partner or sibling, then there may be a basis for that individual to make a claim.
 
This does not mean that if the individual is fit to work, they are still automatically entitled to make a claim.
 
Reasonable financial provision in probate is still a relatively grey area and is judged very much on a case by case basis. Originally designed to sustain a child, you will be expected to demonstrate if you are an adult, that you are unable to obtain additional revenue from another source.

Can I claim Bereavement Benefits?

Bereavement Payments are sometimes made to surviving spouses or civil partners, in the event of the other person’s death.
 
If you are eligible, you may receive a tax free sum of £2000 paid straight into your bank account.
 
To be considered eligible, your deceased spouse or civil partner must have been up to date with their National Insurance Contributions, or their death must have been caused by their job. Providing you are not currently of pensionable age and the deceased was not receiving Retirement Benefit when they died, you may be able to make a claim for Bereavement Benefit.
 
Be aware that should you receive this benefit it may reduce the amount you receive in Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Housing or Council Tax Benefit and Employment or Support Allowance.
 
Should you have been divorced from your spouse at the time of their death, had remarried or were in prison at the time, you will not be considered eligible.

Probate Fees in Florida

If you are a UK citizen with assets in Florida you may need to apply for probate overseas. Here’s an overview of how much you can expect probate fees to amount to. 
 
When a non-resident owns property in Florida and passes away, the property is subject to Florida Probate laws. Probate fees will depend on whether the proceeding is Summary Administration or Formal Administration.  
 
Summary Administration
 
Summary administration is a streamlined probate procedure for smaller estates.   It may be used for a non-resident’s estate if the value of assets does not exceed $75,000 and the death occurred more than 2 years ago. It is usually the quickest and least expensive. An attorney will normally charge an hourly rate for this. Rates range from $200 to $300 per hour so a flat-fee is sometimes preferred depending on the circumstances.

Formal Administration
 
The formal probate process is necessary for estates that exceed $75,000. Florida law sets forth a presumptive schedule for probate fees. 
 
3% of the first $1 million
$1-$3 million at 2.5%
$3-$5 million at 2%
 
Additional fees may be charged for extra services such as the sale of property, advice regarding homestead, or preparation of a Federal estate tax return.
 
IWC Estate Planning & Management does not charge the statutory formula for probate fees. We operate a fixed fee policy and our rates are extremely competitive.  Rather than charge a percentage of the estate, fees are calculated based on the amount of work that`s required.
 
This is much fairer – it is not the value of the estate but the type of assets and complexity of the Will that determines the amount of work involved.  Our prices are calculated based on the type of assets, the number of beneficiaries, and conditions in the Will.
 
While an hourly fee may seem fairer because it is directly proportionate to the amount of work carried out. If you are being charged at an hourly rate, it can escalate considerably. The average formal administration case lasts 1-2 years and you will only be given an indication of the likely cost; when the final bill is presented, you may get a terrible shock. IWC do not charge hourly rates either, but calculate a fixed-fee which will be agreed with you in advance.
 
We can help non-US citizens with all aspects of estate administration and overseas probate in Florida. Call 0800 612 6105 from the UK or +44 20 8150 2010 from overseas.

Who Should Use a Fixed Fee Probate Service?

You may have already heard of the benefits of using a fixed fee probate service if you have been left with the responsibility of dealing with a loved ones estate. But is a fixed fee probate service right for your situation?
 
This will depend on a number of things, including the value of the deceased’s estate and whether you feel up to executing the estate yourself at your sad time of loss. If the deceased has left significant assets of about £10,000 after funeral costs, you may want to use a fixed fee probate service to deal with the estate on your behalf. But if the estate is worth under £5000 after funeral costs, you will not need to apply for probate at all, as the bank will allow you to access your loved ones money.
 
If the proceeds of the estate are tied up in property, or shares, or anything other than just money in the bank, you may want to use a probate service to deal with everything on your behalf. Also if there are bills to be paid and money to chase up from those who owe the deceased money, it may be easier to opt to get an expert to do all this for you.
 
You may not need to apply for probate at all if all the assets your loved one left is in joint names with you. In that case, you will probably just need to ask the financial institutions concerned to transfer the assets into your name only.
 
Another reason that many people choose to use a fixed fee probate service, is to avoid massive legal costs. You may not wish to deal with your loved ones estate yourself, at this time of grief. But you may be worried that legal costs will eat up a large amount of the estate if you appoint a solicitor to deal with the estate on your behalf.
 
And your concerns are understandable. After all, each solicitor’s letter could cost you around £100, and a simple telephone call could be as much as £50. You have no way of knowing what the final bill may be, particularly if the deceased’s finances are complicated and dealing with the estate is a long and drawn out process.
 
This is a good reason to opt for a fixed fee probate service. By agreeing a fixed fee, you know the exact costs before you proceed and you don’t need to worry about a huge legal bill at the end.

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