Having a friend suddenly die on you can put your mind in a spin. You have a horde of things to do ranging from calling the family doctor and arranging a death certificate, to contacting a funeral director to make arrangements.
Moreover, you may find yourself in the midst of a throng of providers hoping to persuade you to spend more money than is strictly necessary. One of these may be a solicitor over-complicating dealing with the estate.
There are times when you genuinely need professional advice because the law can be complicated. However, if the estate is dead simple (and your friend left a will appointing you executor) you may be able to sort your friend’s property, possessions and money yourself.
That’s because the government really does try to simplify things and even occasionally gets it right. You could save £1,000s for the estate this way, but you do need permission from the authorities before you start.
You Need to Get a Grant of Probate First
You can’t just get stuck in and distribute the estate to the heirs because you think you know what is needed. That’s because your friend’s will only makes you caretaker and you still need to follow a process.
However, if the deceased were your married partner (as opposed to being your friend) and you owned everything jointly you would probably not need to apply for probate.
Probate is just an old-fashioned word for getting proof from the government you are legally entitled to sort the estate out. If there had been no will you would have had to ask for a ‘grant of letters of administration’. To add another slight layer of complication they call probate ‘confirmation’ in Scotland.
This is just a legal detail, in reality it works the same way as a ‘grant of probate’ which is what you need for your friend’s estate. However, the process may take as long as two months so you may as well get on with it.
Moreover There Is an Upfront Fee for Probate
The government is considering a sliding scale for probate fees that would benefit small estates at the cost of larger ones. Application fees for probate are currently £155 if you apply through a solicitor. Although they cost you £215 if you’re going direct. Estates worth less than £5,000 pay no fee at all.
Once You Are Over the Hump the Road Levels Out
In theory, administering your friend’s estate is quite straightforward once you have permission from the government. This is the process you follow:
# Identify, and trace all the assets of the estate
# Pay any debts your friend owed when they died
# Recover all moneys owed to them by third parties
# Distribute the estate according to their will
So On Balance is DIY a Good Solution?
Many friends who acted as executors say they appreciated the distraction, because doing something for their friend helped ease the pain. Moreover, they were happy not to have a solicitor intruding and asking questions at the time.
However, we can’t universally recommend a DIY where an estate is large and complex. Remember, if you make a mistake, and you were negligent, the heirs could come after you personally for their losses. Seek advice if you are unsure.