A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

One of my colleagues was recently asked to act for a man in obtaining a grant of probate to the estate of his mother. His sister had attempted to deal with the matter herself but had come unstuck when the Probate Registry asked her for some clarification about matters she did not understand. My colleague often says ‘I would not dream of cutting and colouring my own hair. I go to a hairdresser who has trained to do that. Why do people always think they can do my job when I have trained for 6 years to do the work properly.’
Many people believe that they can carry out their own legal work whether it be writing their own will, selling their own home or obtaining a grant of probate.
The proverb ‘A little knowledge is a dangerous thing’ expresses the idea that a small amount of knowledge can mislead people into thinking that they are more expert than they really are which can lead to mistakes being made.
An extreme example of this can be seen in a recent case brought by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) against a personal representative (someone appointed to administer an estate of a deceased person). The personal representative, Mr Harris acting for himself obtained a grant of letters of administration to an estate. The estate had an inheritance tax bill of £341,278.76. Following the sale of the deceased’s home Mr Harris passed the proceeds of sale to the deceased’s brother and beneficiary on the understanding that the brother would pay the inheritance tax bill. The brother did not. The brother returned to his home in Barbados. HMRC issued a notice to recover the inheritance tax from Mr Harris. Mr Harris appealed on the basis that he did not have the money. His appeal was struck out. The tribunal judge said that it was no defence that Mr Harris was ignorant of his obligations as a personal representative to pay the inheritance tax owing and he had to pay.
Another situation arose with a home made will. It was a short will ‘This is the last will of John Smith and I appoint my 2 children Jayne Smith and Arthur Smith to act as my executors and leave my whole estate to them.’ Sadly John’s daughter Jayne had died before John. Arthur took out a grant of probate personally, disposed of John’s assets and transferred all the monies to himself. Jayne had 2 children herself – John’s grandchildren – both of whom survived John. Arthur did not realise that in this instance Jayne’s children were entitled to their mother’s share of the estate. Whilst Arthur was able to remedy the situation and pass monies to them it did initially cause bad feeling within the family.
At Dixon Stewart we are always happy to meet with you at an initial interview for a nominal fee and advise you of the cost of us carrying out any legal work for you. Although legal work does incur fees you may find in the long run it can save you money. It also means that you avoid the stress of worrying that maybe you have not got matters quite right.
If you would like legal advice about any matters then please contact us on enquiry@dixonstewart.com or call one of our offices

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