Probate a “simple process” for majority – research

A clear majority of those involved in probate found the process simple, a new study has revealed, with a variety of factors said to be contributing to its simplicity.

IRN Legal Research polled 257 adults who had recently dealt with a deceased person’s estate. 71% said probate was a simply process because the will was clearly drafted and written, up from 69% in 2020.

64% also said a lower number of assets and properties were left to deal with, thus contributing to them finding the process simply.

53% said the use of a professional adviser made the process simpler, a relatively steady figure when compared with the 52% who answered similarly in IRN’s 2018 equivalent study.

In contrast, over a third (35%) noted that there was no will and this made probate complicated. Concerningly, this is much higher than 24% in 2020 which itself was a much higher percentage compared to the two previous years. IRN noted the higher percentages in the last two surveys could be a result of the pandemic with many people passing away before they had made a will. In 2019, by comparison, there was no will for just 8%.

Regarding the cost of probate, 42% said there were significant extra costs for them – also much higher than previous years, said IRN, who suggested the difficulties of dealing with some estates after Covid-related deaths may again be a factor. In 2020, probate involved significant extra costs for 26% (21% in 2019 and 22% in 2018).

With regards to the cost of probate itself, IRN said there has been a growth in fixed-fee models for probate advice, with 64% paid on this basis in 2023, a notable increase from 50% in in 2020 and 52% in 2019.

In most fixed fee arrangements, the fixed fee agreed at the start was the final fee charged (38%). 18% were charged a higher final fee, and 8% were charged a lower final fee. The traditional payment method – hourly fees – now accounts for just 10% of fees, the same as in 2020. The median fee itself was £700.

Interestingly, 54% completed the estate administration process themselves, though IRN said given that 53% also said above that professional advisers made the probate process easier, a few DIYers must have had some professional advice along the way.

The availability of the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) online probate application portal is likely to have helped those undertaking the process themselves: specifically, those using the MoJ’s probate portal has increased to 51% in the 2023 survey from 32% in 2020.

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