Just One Danger of DIY Probate

Angela Scott, Partner of Thomson & Bancks Solicitors, offers a word of caution.

The case of Harris v HMRC in 2018 is a salutary warning that the administration of an Estate is not straightforward. Many people, armed with some basic information from Google, have a go themselves. They run the risk of exposure to huge personal risk.


Mr Harris was the Personal Representative of the late Helena’s estate. He filled in the forms for HMRC. The estate was worth approximately £1.1 million with an inheritance tax (IHT) liability of £341,000. The Inheritance Tax Act provides that, with very limited exceptions, the deceased’s Personal Representatives are liable for all of the IHT payable on the deceased’s estate.


In this case, HMRC issued a demand for the tax and Mr Harris appealed on the basis that he didn’t have it. Following the sale of the deceased’s home he had given the proceeds to the deceased’s beneficiary brother but on the understanding that the brother would pay the tax. The brother went abroad without doing so.


The Court held that it was no defence that Mr Harris may have transferred the assets to a beneficiary on the basis that the beneficiary would be responsible for the payment of the IHT due. Nor is it a defence that Mr Harris was ignorant of his obligations to pay the IHT. Mr Harris found himself in the unenviable position of being responsible for the tax liability personally!


Acting as Personal Representative carries with it a huge responsibility for the Personal Representative and so it is vitally important to have the appropriate legal advice before proceeding. There are many non-legally qualified firms including probate processing companies and even some accountants offering assistance. There is no substitute for a solicitor. After all would you ask your dentist to carry out a heart operation?







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