When a person dies, their estate must be dealt with, a process known as probate. But how long does probate take? This depends on many factors, which this article explains.
Probate is the legal process of dealing with someone’s estate after their death. It involves collecting all of their assets, paying any outstanding debts and taxes, and distributing the remaining estate to the named beneficiaries.
The probate process starts with the submission of the probate application to the probate registry. This application includes the will, the death certificate, and other documents. The probate registry then reviews the application and, depending whether everything is in order, issues the grant of probate.
The grant of probate is a legal document that confirms the executor’s authority to deal with the deceased’s estate. Once the grant of probate is issued, the executor can start dealing with the estate. This means that they can take action such as closing bank and savings accounts, selling property, and distributing assets to the beneficiaries.
The duration of the probate process can vary significantly. However, according to GOV.UK, it usually takes 9-12 months to complete probate in the UK.
However, the specific duration can vary widely, depending on the complexity of the deceased’s estate and other factors. For simple estates, probate may be completed in a few months. Alternatively, for larger and more complex estates, it may take over a year, or even longer in certain cases.
According to The Law Society, the main factors which influence probate duration are the estate size and complexity, whether there is a will, inheritance tax due, any disputes over the will or estate, and the efficiency of the executor. It is also important to note that larger, more complex estates typically take longer.
If the deceased left a will, the probate process is often quicker because the will provides clear instructions about how the estate should be distributed. Although, this is not a guarantee of speed as a dispute over the contents of the will may arise.
If there is no will, the estate must be distributed according to the rules of intestacy, and this can take longer. Without a will, it is essential that an application is made to the probate registry for a grant of letters of administration.
The efficiency of the executor or administrator can also affect the length of probate. For instance, if the executor is organised and diligent, the probate process can be quicker. Conversely, if the executor is slow or disorganised, delays may occur.
Any inheritance tax due must be paid before the grant of probate can be issued. This can take some time, especially if the executor needs to gather funds to pay the tax. Delays can also occur if the executor needs to provide additional information to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) about the value of the estate.
The timeline for probate can be broken down into several key stages:
Legal delays can occur at any stage of the probate process. Research from Which? found that on average, fully contested wills can take around 18-24 months to settle through the court system. Consequently, this lengthens the legal process by a substantial amount. For instance, there may be delays in obtaining the death certificate. This is needed in order to fulfil an application.
Another common cause of legal delays is disputes about the will. If someone challenges the validity of the will or disputes the distribution of the estate, this can significantly delay the probate process. Such disputes may need to be resolved in court, taking a long time and adding to the cost of probate. Common reasons for contesting a will include concern over the mental capacity of the deceased at the time of the will’s creation.
In some cases, there may be delays in paying inheritance tax, especially if the estate is large. This is because there may be a large amount of tax to pay, and the executor may need to raise funds to pay it. Consequently, this can delay the issue of the grant of probate.
There may be delays in distributing the estate, particularly if the beneficiaries cannot be found, or if there are disputes about the distribution.
The executor plays a crucial role in the speed of the probate process. They are responsible for dealing with the deceased’s estate, which is a huge undertaking. For instance, this includes valuing the estate, applying for probate, paying debts and taxes, and distributing the estate to the beneficiaries.
A diligent and organised executor can significantly speed up the probate process. They can quickly gather the necessary information, submit the probate application, and deal with the estate. Furthermore, they can quickly resolve any problems or disputes that arise. Alternatively, an inexperienced or disorganised executor can slow down the probate process. This is because they may take a long time to gather the necessary information, make mistakes in the probate application, or struggle to deal with the estate. In some cases, they may need to hire probate solicitors to help them, significantly adding to the cost and duration of the process.
The executor also has a legal duty to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries. Therefore, it is essential that they deal with the estate efficiently and effectively, whilst also keeping the beneficiaries informed about the progress of the process.
When a person dies and has left a will, the probate process is generally easier and quicker. However, this is not a rule as disputes and lack of organisational skills can delay and complicate the probate’s progress.
When a person dies without leaving a will, the probate process can be longer. This is because the estate must be distributed according to the rules of intestacy, rather than according to the deceased’s wishes.
The rules of intestacy provide a strict order of who should inherit the estate, potentially leading to disputes among the beneficiaries if certain parties feel they are being unfairly distributed. This can further delay the probate process.
On average, If there is no will, the probate process takes 9-12 months. However, according to Co-op Legal Services, this can take over a year for more complex estates.
As previously explained, the grant of probate is a legal document that confirms the executor’s authority to deal with the deceased’s estate. It is issued by the probate registry after the probate application has been submitted and reviewed. On average, it takes between two and eight weeks to obtain.
The probate application includes the will, if there is one, the death certificate, and other necessary documents. The probate registry reviews the application and, depending on whether everything is in order, issues the grant of probate. Delays can occur if the probate registry is busy, or if they require additional information from the executor.
Probate is a complicated process that can be delayed by disputes, lack of organisation, missing information, the absence of a will and many other factors.
For instance, certain tasks can only be done in a particular order. An example of this is that the grant of probate cannot be issued until the inheritance tax has been paid, and the estate cannot be distributed to the beneficiaries until all the debts and taxes have been paid.
The legal duty of the executor to act in the beneficiaries’ best interest may also affect the length of time they take to complete the process once it is in their hands.
In the UK, there is no strict time limit for completing probate. Conversely, certain tasks do need to be completed within specific time limits. For example, the executor or administrator should apply for probate as soon as possible after the person’s death, since the estate cannot be dealt with until probate has been granted.
There is a time limit for paying inheritance tax, which must be paid within six months of the person’s death. If this time demand is not met, the tax amount may accrue interest. This leads to an even larger sum that must be paid.
The estate should be distributed to the beneficiaries as soon as all the debts and taxes have been paid and all the assets have been gathered in.
Although the probate process can be a challenging time, tracking the probate application progress can help you to navigate it.
After submitting the application to the probate registry, it’s possible to contact them to check on its status. Typically, the executor is responsible for tracking the application. If they decide to track the application, they should be prepared to provide the deceased person’s details, and possibly answer questions about the estate. Therefore, staying organised and maintaining clear records can help expedite this process.
It is important to remember that the probate process takes time. Even once the grant of probate has been issued, the executor still needs to administer the estate. This involves closing bank accounts, selling property, paying debts and taxes, and distributing the remaining assets.
Although it’s understandable to want the process to be over quickly, it’s crucial to remember that this is a complex legal process. Therefore, it is more important that it is completed correctly than to rush it. It is best to enter the process with managed expectations regarding the length of time it may take.
To pay inheritance tax, the executor needs to fill out the inheritance tax forms. This is a detailed process that involves calculating the total value of the deceased’s estate, subtracting any exemptions or reliefs, and calculating the tax owed.
Any inheritance tax due must be paid before the grant of probate can be issued. Thus, dealing with inheritance tax is often one of the first tasks which the executor undertakes.
This is an essential step in the process and one that must be handled with care and diligence. This means that time-saving should not be a priority.
The probate process cost can vary depending on the complexity of the deceased’s estate.
In essence, the costs of obtaining probate are split into two main parts: the probate application fee and the solicitor’s fees.
The probate application fee is a fixed fee set by the government. Currently, the fee is £273 for a personal application or £155 if the application is made through a solicitor. This fee was increased in April 2019 from £215 for a personal application and £155 for a solicitor application.
In addition to the application fee, there will typically be solicitor’s fees for handling the probate process. These fees often range from 1% to 5% of the value of the estate, plus VAT. For example, for an estate worth £500,000, solicitor’s fees could range from £5,000 to £25,000 plus VAT.
The exact solicitor’s fees will depend on the specific circumstances and complexity of the estate. More time spent by the solicitor will increase costs. Estates with higher values typically have higher solicitor’s fees, although the fees are not strictly proportional to the estate value.
To get an accurate estimate of total probate costs, it is advisable to get a quote from a solicitor based on the details of the specific estate. The solicitor will provide a quote after assessing the information provided in a probate questionnaire.
You can get more information about the costs of probate here.
The testator usually appoints the person who should serve as the executor. If the will of the testator doesn’t nominate such a person, it won’t be possible for one party to apply for probate. In such instances, one of the beneficiaries is allowed to apply for legal documents allowing them to act as administrators.
One of the crucial tasks in the probate process is estate administration, which involves gathering the deceased’s assets, paying their debts, and distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries.
A large part of this process is dealing with the deceased’s bank accounts. The executor needs to contact the bank or building society as soon as possible after the person’s death, allowing them to freeze the deceased’s associated accounts and calculate their balance at the date of death.
Bank accounts cannot be closed until probate has been granted. Once this happens, the executor can close the accounts and use the funds to pay any taxes and debts. Any remaining funds can then be distributed to the beneficiaries, according to the will stipulations or the rules of intestacy.
Whilst this process can take time, especially if the deceased had multiple accounts, it is a crucial part of estate administration and one that can certainly affect the length of the probate process.
If the deceased person had a life insurance policy, the payout from this policy can help to cover funeral costs, pay taxes, and settle debts. However, whether or not the life insurance payout forms part of the deceased’s estate depends on how the policy was set up. For instance, if the policy was written in trust for a specific person, the payout goes directly to them and does not form part of the estate. This means that, in this case, the executor is not in charge of distributing it amongst the beneficiaries.
If the policy was not written in trust, the payout forms part of the deceased’s estate and is subject to inheritance tax. This could potentially increase the value of the estate and therefore, the amount of inheritance tax that needs to be paid.
Therefore, life insurance policies are just another factor that affects how long probate takes to complete.
Income tax can play a crucial part in the probate process. After a person’s death, their estate may still owe income tax, which could be from the deceased’s employment, rental income, or other sources of income. The executor of the estate then has the responsibility to ensure this tax is paid in full.
As part of the whole probate process, the executor must calculate and pay any income tax owed up until the date of death. This tax must be paid before the estate can be distributed to the beneficiaries, this part of the probate process potentially taking an extended amount of time.
If the deceased owed money at the time of death, these debts need to be paid out of their estate. Money owed includes any loans, credit card debts, or mortgages that the deceased had, and clearing these debts is one of the first necessary tasks that the executor does as part of the probate process.
The executor uses the assets of the estate to pay off these debts, perhaps involving selling property or other assets. If the debts exceed the assets in the estate, the estate is declared insolvent which is similar to bankruptcy. In such a case, beneficiaries do not receive anything.
Selling property during probate is a common task for many executors. If the deceased owned a house or other property, it might need to be sold to pay debts, taxes, or to distribute money to the beneficiaries. Whilst the process of selling property during probate is similar to a regular property sale, there are a few extra steps. Executors can entrust this task to a solicitor, specifically if they do not understand the process.
First, the executor must obtain a grant of probate, which authorises them to deal with the deceased’s estate. This includes the selling of property. Once probate has been granted, the executor can put the property on the market. Before it can go ahead, all of the parties involved, including the beneficiaries, need to agree to the sale.
Probate can be more complicated for larger estates, due to the increased number of assets and potential for more debts and taxes. As larger estates may also involve more beneficiaries, this adds to the complexity. If the deceased owned a business, this must also be included in the estate, which perhaps introduces further complications.
With larger estates, it’s also more likely that there will be inheritance tax to pay, which needs to be calculated accurately. Consequently, the combination of all of these factors means that probate for larger estates can take longer and be more complex.
A guide to wills can provide valuable information about the probate process after the loss of a loved one. It can explain the role of the executor, the steps involved in probate, and what to do if the deceased did not leave a will. The guide also explains the process of valuing the estate, applying for probate, selling property, paying debts and taxes, and distributing the estate to the beneficiaries. Furthermore, it can provide advice on dealing with disputes over the contents of the will.
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