Grant of probate gives an executor or administrator the right to deal with a deceased estate, allowing them to access accounts, pay creditors and ultimately to distribute property to beneficiaries. Anyone dealing with an estate valued at more than £10,000 needs to apply for Grant of Probate unless the estate is passing directly to a spouse. The government have recently announced that they want to review and simplify the probate process with a view to moving applications online.
There are currently around 280,000 probate applications every year. For any inexperienced executors who are submitting an application for probate the whole process can be complex and intimidating and often goes hand in hand with inheritance tax calculations. It is no surprise that many executors will turn to a solicitor for help because they find it difficult to cope with the demands of probate.
However many executors will also try to complete the whole process themselves and in a drive to reduce administration costs the government are now looking to move some probate applications online and make forms simpler and easier for lay executors to understand, replicating online tax returns. On the face of it this inevitable move to a digital probate service should be good news for lay executors. It should make the process faster and and cheaper with cost savings on solicitors fees – but it may also expose executors to mistakes, making them more vulnerable to claims.
The online probate application is still being tested and so far only on relatively simple estates. Interestingly the government’s own research has shown that many users don’t understand probate and they are uncertain about whether they need to apply. They have also discovered, perhaps not unexpectedly, that people are particularly vulnerable during the grieving process. In these circumstances many find the process stressful, people had difficulties understanding complex language and were unable to cope with long forms.
Lay people who take on the role of executor are often entirely unaware that they face unlimited and personal liability – in essence this means that if they make a mistake in the management or distribution of an estate they may end up paying any claims themselves. The government’s research demonstrates just how difficult probate can be for lay executors and therefore makes them more vulnerable to claims. Solicitors applying for Grant of Probate are protected by their Professional Indemnity Insurance. Executors Insurance offers the same protection to lay executors if they make a mistake during probate.