Dealing with a person’s estate after they die is not a simple process. Often the whole task is referred to as ‘Probate’, but technically, the grant of probate is just one part of a bigger process known as the administration of the estate. It’s difficult to predict an accurate time frame for the administration period, but this time frame can be increased depending on the complexity of the case or if there are any delays during the process.
The value of your estate will affect the time it takes to be completed. If the estate is relatively small, it could take between three to four months. A more sizable estate could take close to six months if not longer.
The process can also be held up by Revenue and Customs (HMRC) because of tax implications. If HMRC are held up resolving your estate’s tax, then the time it takes for the whole process to be completed will be increased.
Certain delays are not going to be necessarily obvious, so it’s integral to have a thorough understanding of the entire probate process.
Delays Before Probate Is Granted
In order for someone to take legal control of the deceased’s estate, they must first be granted probate. Before applying for probate, you need to locate the original will — or confirm that the person had not made a will before they died — and have the estate valued.
The amount of time it takes for assets and liabilities to be identified and an estate to be valued is unavoidable. However, there are other potential delays to look out for.
Locating the Will
Locating the will is an integral part of probate. One of its most important elements is that it names the executor, who will ultimately look after the distribution of the estate.
Problems can arise if you cannot find the will or if it has been damaged. In these scenarios, it may be necessary to apply to the court to determine the contents of the lost will.
This will involve a time-consuming hunt for evidence of the will’s content, which can be accepted by the court in place of the will itself.
If the will is lost, you may have to prove that it was not destroyed intentionally by the deceased. Destruction of a will by the testator is one of the ways the document can be revoked. So, when a will is lost, the question becomes whether it was destroyed (and therefore revoked) on purpose.
Any application to the court takes time, but determining the contents of a lost will can be particularly time-consuming, especially if there are any disagreements on its contents.
If you are struggling to find a copy of a will, a solicitor can help you check national databases and make other enquiries in an attempt to track the document.
Using a Copy of the Will
When the original document cannot be located, many people assume a signed copy of the will is sufficient enough to be granted probate. However, the rules regarding probate are strict, so a copy will not be accepted automatically.
Having the original will can make the process easier, but the document needs to be completely unaltered — even stapling counts as a form of alteration, which can lead to you needing to submit an explanation as to why you have made such a change.
If a copy of the will is all you have at your disposal, you can submit it to the probate registry, but there is no guarantee that they will accept it and grant probate.
When making this application, the executor will have to also submit an affidavit confirming in detail the circumstances relating to the loss of the will and the attempts made to find it.
The details of anyone who would have benefited from the estate (eg. those who stand to inherit under the rules of intestacy) may also need to be provided. In some scenarios, the probate registry may require them to give their consent to grant probate.
Having to gather this information can make the probate process take longer to resolve and add another layer of complexity. If you are in this situation, speak to a solicitor for more advice.
There is No Named Executor in the Will
DIY will writing kits are becoming more popular as a cost-saving measure, but this can lead to key pieces of information being omitted. Such information can include the name of an executor.
If an executor is not named, it is common for a beneficiary to be appointed as administrator of the estate. They will be able to deal with any decisions the executor would have made.
This should not cause a huge delay, but if there is a disagreement about who should administer the estate, it may take court action to resolve the dispute.
Delays After Probate Is Granted
Once probate has been granted, the person administering the estate can begin gathering the assets that belonged to the deceased. Depending on the complexity and size of the estate, this can take months if not longer.
There are a number of financial tasks that need to be completed. Debts the estate owes need to be paid. Tax — including inheritance tax — needs to be at least partially paid to get probate.
At this point, the executor may have everyone’s inheritance waiting in a bank account, but that does not mean they can release it. This is because there may be forces outside the executor’s control that impact how long probate takes to complete, such as:
- Advertisement for creditors: The debts owed by the estate may not be immediately clear, which is why adverts may be placed in local and national publications. A minimum of two months needs to be given for creditors to come forward.
- Investigations by the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP): The DWP may wish to make an investigation into any benefits the deceased may have been in receipt of. Investigations can take several months to complete.
- Inheritance Tax calculations: HMRC are required to confirm the amount of calculated inheritance tax you owe. Months can be spent waiting for HMRC clearance or responding to their enquiries, and during this time, enough money must be kept by the estate to cover this tax.
- Inheritance claims: Probate can be challenged and is often done so on the basis that the deceased did not make reasonable financial provision, as described by the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975. Since these claims must be made within six months of probate being granted, the money owed by the estate can be held until the times call for claims has elapsed or the claim is settled.
How Long Does Probate Take?
An estate with no property to sell and one single bank account could take around three months to complete. However, the majority of estates in England and Wales can take six to nine months if not longer.
The time-consuming aspect can be frustrating for beneficiaries, but delays are either unavoidable or necessary to protect the estate administrator and beneficiaries from liability.
The time it takes to complete the probate process can drastically increase if the will is contested, meaning you should speak to an experienced probate solicitor as soon as possible to resolve issues in the shortest possible time.
The probate process can vary greatly from case to case, and the time it takes to be completed is difficult to estimate without knowing the specifics.
If you are a beneficiary and wondering when you will receive your inheritance, it is natural to wonder why probate is taking so long.
It is unlikely that the estate is being mismanaged, but if you have any concerns that it may be you should speak to a solicitor as soon as possible.
If you are administering the estate, you may not want to have to manage the process for the duration. For this reason, many people choose to use a solicitor to administer the estate on their behalf.
If you would like to know more about your options in this area, or for any further information, get in touch with one of our specialist solicitors.