Probate - comparing service and price - shop around for probate services

How to compare probate services and price

From deciding whether you need professional help at all, to working out how much you should pay, shopping around for probate services can be challenging. Here are some facts, figures and tips for comparing probate and estate administration services.

by Tom Hiskey
June 5, 2019

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Do I need professional help at all?

Professional probate services are used after about 50% of deaths in England and Wales (we know that from market research). So, half the time relatives sort things out themselves.

The most common reasons for using a professional are:

  • You don’t have the time
  • You’d feel more confident with professional help
  • The estate is complicated or high value
  • There are disputes

When we speak to relatives who have been faced with bereavement, we hear about varied experiences. Some instructed professionals to do the full estate administration (explained below) and regret paying so much money – in hindsight, they felt they could have done it themselves. But others do it themselves and wish they hadn’t, because of the worry of getting something wrong, or because it can be so time-consuming.

When you call us for the first time, the first thing we’ll do is help you work out if you need professional help. We never assume you do.

I want professional help - what do I look for?

The big distinction to bear in mind with professional services is between probate and estate administration.

Probate is a piece of paper issued by HM Courts Service. It proves that certain people (for example, executors) have the authority to deal with the assets of someone who’s died. Banks often need it before they can release funds and it’s also required if a house has to be sold. To get probate, various forms have to be filled out – which can be tricky if you’re not used to the jargon or worried about making mistakes.

Estate administration, by contrast, is everything that has to be done to sort out someone’s affairs — not just probate. It could mean calling up banks, filling out their forms, dealing with the family, paying debts, closing accounts, sorting out pensions, selling shares, collecting in funds, clearing the house, selling the house, paying everything out to the beneficiaries, and so on. It’s whatever has to be done. It can be complicated, but in most cases it’s just very time-consuming.

The distinction is important because you could be paying a few hundred pounds for probate or £3,450 (if not more) for estate administration.

Do I need probate or estate administration?

There’s no right answer.

If the estate is simpler and you have some spare time, but you’d like help with the more complicated, legal, jargony bit, you might be best finding a service which just offers probate.

If the estate is complicated, you have little spare time, and you want professional support from start to finish, this could be a case for estate administration.

Solicitors and other professionals often offer both, so it’s best to ask them about the options upfront.

Probate and estate administration difference

How much should probate cost?

Our research shows that professional probate services (i.e. just getting probate) cost on average £1,400. By contrast, 75% of Farewill customers pay just £345.

Market research from the Legal Services Board suggests that estate administration services average out at about £2,450, but if charged by hourly rate or a percentage this rises to £4,950. And many solicitors and banks would charge considerably more. A £10,000 estimate for estate administration is not unheard of. The variation in pricing is enormous.

Some people have called Farewill to query our prices, not believing it can be so much cheaper than the £5,000 quote they’ve had from a high street solicitor. But this may, in part, be because they’re not comparing like–for–like services.

When shopping around, ask specific questions from the professional about the service and what you’ll be getting for your money, so you can make an informed comparison.

Should I shop around?

Research from the Legal Services Consumer Panel says only 16% of people shop around for professional probate / estate administration services. That compares with 27% for legal services in general (and that’s still low compared to other industries like insurance).

Given the huge variation in both pricing and service, we highly recommend shopping around.

You may find, for example, that your local solicitor offers a face–to–face meeting, but wouldn’t be available at evenings or weekends and could charge by hourly rate. At Farewill, we provide a fixed, upfront quote, we’re available 6 days a week until 7pm for support by email, chat or phone, and all our probate submissions are handled by regulated solicitors.

We encourage you to find the service that’s best for you and your family.

What questions should I ask?

To shop around successfully and choose the best service for you, consider calling up 2 or 3 services, maybe including a local solicitor and Farewill, and asking the following questions. The answers should help you make a useful comparison.

  1. Do I need professional help at all? They should ask you about the circumstances and give you relevant advice. Don’t be pushed into something you don’t want.
  2. Do you offer probate or estate administration, and which is right for me? Again, you should be asked about the circumstances and given clear suggestions about the level of service that’s right for you.
  3. What’s included in the service? It’s very important to be clear if the professional is just getting probate, or if they’ll be handling everything (estate administration), or something in between. We’ve spoken to customers of solicitors who found this was not made at all clear at the outset.
  4. What will it cost? Be super-clear on cost, and whether it includes VAT and expenses (like the court fee, which solicitors sometimes call ‘disbursements’).
  5. Will you charge by fixed fee, hourly rate or percentage? Be wary of services charging by hourly rate or percentage of the estate: you’re likely to pay more. One of the top reasons for complaints about probate services is lack of clarity of costs; so get an upfront, fixed quote if at all possible.
  6. How long will it take? This can be a difficult question to answer for estate administration – it can take many months (even years in complex cases). But for probate, you should be given a clear timescale, likely a matter of weeks.
  7. How will you keep me up to date? Communication is a big source of frustration and complaints; be clear on how they’ll stay in touch, and how frequently.
  8. How can I contact you? Be clear on opening hours, and whether you can contact them by phone, email or online chat (depending on what’s important to you).

Before making your final decision, it's also worth looking up reviews online to see what other people have said about their service. Research shows that reputation and quality are the two biggest influencing factors when choosing a probate service.

I hope this helps you choose the right service for you!

If you’d like to speak to someone about your options and find out more about how Farewill can help, please call us on 020 3695 1713 or see other ways to get in touch.

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