The Probate Scandal

Nobody likes being ripped off - particularly at a time of bereavement - but all too often that's exactly what greedy banks and solicitors do! We're not implying that banks and solicitors are negligent in their task - only that in a great many cases they overcharge for their services.

We do understand that legal costs are an expense you'd rather avoid. And even though the costs are paid from the deceased's money, there's still a duty to maximise what's available for beneficiaries.

Solicitors and banks are regularly criticised - and quite rightly so - for the excessive charges they levy for administering deceased estates. Most solicitors charge a percentage fee based on the value of the estate - typically 1.5% to 2.5% - and banks typically 4% to 6%.

Take, for example, a £500,000 estate, and assuming that there are no additional hourly or other fees charged on top:

A solicitor charging 1.5% would cost £7,500 + VAT + disbursements

A bank charging 4.0% would cost £20,000 + VAT + disbursements

And the entire estate could be in just one bank account!

What's more why, should a bank account containing £500,000 cost any more to deal with than one containing just £5,000?

Clearly - it shouldn't - yet that's exactly what happens with percentage fee charging! So at just a 1.5% charge the account with £500,000 costs £7,500 to administer compared with £75 for the account holding £5,000.

Quite frankly, charging a percentage fee is simply outrageous and greedy!

And if a solicitor or bank has been appointed as Executor and the death has occurred, it's a devil of a job to get them to voluntarily renounce their position and even an expensive Court application may be unsuccessful.

There was even a recent Court case concerning a solicitor who bizarrely calculated his Probate fees based entirely on the thickness and weight of the files. Hard to believe - but true!

The alternative is to charge a fixed monetary fee - yet few solicitors will offer this - and neither will banks.

Some comparative charges

The following is a summary of an article comparing charges for estate administration that appeared in The Times newspaper - based on a specimen estate (of the last surviving spouse):

House £300,000
Shares (held in 10 blue chip companies) £50,000
Unit Trusts (5 holdings of equal value) £50,000
Savings Accounts (5 separate holdings) £100,000
Total Estate Value £500,000

Notes:

The estate was to be divided equally between 6 beneficiaries. There were no Will problems, no other complications, and no family disputes over legacies.

The charges quoted in the article were as follows:

NatWest Bank £15,000
Coutts Bank £13,000
Barclays Bank £17,140
Royal Bank of Scotland £15,000
Bank of Scotland £11,000
Lloyds TSB £20,000
HSBC £15,000
Wealthguard fee (based on the same estate) £1,500

All the above fees are plus VAT and disbursements

Wealthguard's fee (excluding VAT) represents just 0.3% of the overall gross value of this estate.

  • Institute of Professional Willswriters
  • The Office of Fair Trading
OFT approved code of practice
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