Until relatively recently executors dealing with a loved one’s estate faced two choices when obtaining probate. They could do it themselves, with the attendant risks that are involved in navigating a process with which they are likely to be unfamiliar. Or hire a solicitor to do the job for them.
The benefit of the former being that it saves money; the drawback of the latter being that it is expensive.
Most firms of solicitors charge a percentage of the value of the estate for which they are handling probate. Commonly, this is one per cent. When you consider that many properties in London and the South East are worth a million pounds or more, solicitors’ fees can carve a hefty chunk out of the value of an estate if a house forms part of it. But since October 2014 executors have a third choice.
Firms of accountants are now allowed to handle probate on a client’s behalf, provided they have the necessary qualifications from their association. Cheesmans, an accountancy practice based in Islington in London is amongst the first firms of accountants to qualify to handle probate.
And using an accountancy firm offers a number of advantages. Firstly cost. Work is usually undertaken on time-based fees. This means that executors seeking professional help are no longer held to ransom by high charges from solicitors. Fees paid are more likely to run into the hundreds of pounds, rather than the thousands. Secondly, by using a firm of accountants, executors can be guided through the process in the most tax efficient manner. This will maximise the proceeds of the estate for those who stand to inherit, for example, by ensuring all relevant tax reliefs are considered and utilised accordingly.
If you are fortunate enough to have an accountant who is qualified to handle probate, there could be other benefits. If the person who’s died was a client of the firm, it will have a deep knowledge of their late client’s affairs. This will not only make any valuation of the estate a more straightforward process than it might otherwise be, it will also make it easier for liability to tax to be reduced. Often, too, the firm would have undertaken inheritance tax planning on behalf of their late client, further reducing tax liability on the deceased’s estate.
When asked to comment, Carol Cheesman, founding partner of Cheesmans, said that it should be possible to wrap up the whole probate process in two or three meetings, guiding the executors through the procedures necessary to obtain a grant of representation from the probate service.
Of course, not all firms of accountants will be able to provide probate as part of their offering, or even want to. But Cheesmans is known for its proactive approach. It’s a firm that prides itself on moving with the times. It certainly is in the vanguard of this latest initiative to allow accountants to offer more services. If you are the executor of an estate, or you know somebody who is, using an accountancy firm to handle probate could turn out to be a smart move – a welcome third way to soothe the process, in fact.