How long does probate take?

25 August 2022

Following the death of a family member, close friend or loved one, there is a six-month window in which the executor should make an application for probate to the probate registry to enable the inheritance of their estate.

Despite the initial time limitation to start the application, it can take several months or often longer than a year to complete the entire probate process. Typically, executors and beneficiaries can expect estate administration to take between nine and twelve months before the process is complete.

Unfortunately, several delays can extend how long probate takes to process fully. In this article, we’ll explore some common complications that can delay probate, as well as a clear timeline of the typical probate process.

The probate process

  1. Register the death

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the executor of the Will must register the person’s death within five days of their death date. In Scotland, executors can do this within eight days. Across the UK, this period includes both weekends and bank holidays.

Whilst it is a criminal offence not to register a death during this period, it is also necessary to complete this step to receive the death certificate. This document is essential to continue the probate process.

  1. Contact organisations and beneficiaries

The executor is responsible for informing bank accounts and utilities that are solely in the name of the person who died. Any final payments will need to be handled and all accounts should be closed.

It is also important to inform beneficiaries of the passing at this stage if they are still unaware. The executor should also inform them that they are entitled to a share of the estate.

  1. Pay Inheritance Tax

Before probate can be granted, the executor must pay inheritance tax on the estate. The value of the estate is calculated by adding the value of each asset and deducting costs such as debts, funeral costs and bills. If the remaining value is over the threshold of £325,000, 40% inheritance tax must be paid to HMRC. This tax owed can be reduced to 36% if 10% of the estate is donated to charity.

For any inheritance tax to be paid, there are two forms, IHT400 and IHT421, which must be completed online or via post. Executors must wait 20 days after submitting these forms and the payment of inheritance tax before applying for a grant of probate.

  1. Submit a grant of probate

Once the death certificate has been obtained, the executor should submit this document and the original copy of the Will to the probate registry to accompany the grant of probate  application. Using a photocopy of the Will is not permitted as an original document must be  sent. The death certificate will be returned to you, but the Will and any additions will be kept by the probate registry.

A grant of probate can be completed either online or via post. The court will not permit probate unless the inheritance tax has been paid on the estate. During this time, probate can be contested, which can cause indefinite delays.

  1. Pay debts

Once a grant of probate has been given, the executor should pay any final payments and debts. This might include the outstanding mortgage balance or credit card debts. Student loans are exempt as they are wiped upon death.

  1. Claim life insurance

If the person who died had a life insurance policy, it could be claimed once probate has been granted. The pay-out can reimburse the costs of inheritance tax, as this will need to be paid before probate has been granted.

Life insurance is also commonly used to cover the costs of a funeral. These are costly ceremonies which are often paid for and planned before the probate process is completed.

  1. Divide assets amongst beneficiaries

Once all other matters have been settled and the grant of probate has been acquired from the probate registry, the remainder of the estate can be divided amongst beneficiaries as determined within the Will.

As the executor of the Will, any part of the estate is only inherited if you are also listed as a beneficiary.

Factors causing probate delays 

Many of our clients will often ask us ‘how long does probate take?’ Unfortunately, there isn’t always a straightforward answer. Each case is different and will vary depending on individual complex estates.

A range of delays can occur during any stage of the probate process. These aren’t always caused by just one party. Various parties can influence the efficiency of the probate process, often causing it to extend beyond the expected time it usually takes to complete probate.

  • Issues relating to the Will

If the death was unexpected, there might be a period of delay whilst locating the Will.  Although an executor may have been aware of their responsibility, the person who died may not have disclosed the document’s location. This can delay the process indefinitely because the original copy of the Will is required to apply for probate.

Additional delays can occur if two parties do not agree with the contents of the Will. Under these circumstances, a caveat will be placed on the estate administration until its validity can be proven or the dispute is resolved.

Legitimate concerns over the validity of the Will can also arise if the Will was not witnessed, signed or was written when the owner was under 18 years of age. Following an invalidity ruling, the estate administration process will be treated as if there was no Will, prolonging and often complicating probate proceedings.

  • Problems with the executor

Lengthy delays from disagreements over the role of the executor are not uncommon. If the appointment of the executor was unexpected or disagreed with, a stand-off can prolong any further progress.

Much like an unwanted executor, if a solicitor has been appointed with the role but is disagreed with, there aren’t any rules demanding their renouncement. Therefore, it can take weeks or even months to settle on an agreement between the disputing parties.

  • Problems with beneficiaries

A common cause of delays regarding beneficiaries of the Will occurs when the executor cannot locate the individual, or there are no contact details available. Before distributing the estate amongst beneficiaries, the executor must make significant efforts to find the missing beneficiary. If a beneficiary has passed away before probate has occurred, their share will return to the estate to be redistributed amongst the remaining parties.

Additionally, disputes that the involved parties cannot quickly resolve will contribute to the extension of the probate process. Often, if mediation is required, there may have been weeks or months of disagreements before reaching this point. Handling the situation calmly and as quickly as possible is the best chance to continue the process efficiently.

Can a probate solicitor speed up the process?

The probate process can be complex and time-consuming for an inexperienced executor of a Will. What’s more, if the person who died was a close relative or friend, it can be a period of emotional sorrow and healing. The lack of direction and emotional difficulty can extend the time it takes to complete the probate process, prolonging the focus on pain and loss.

If there are numerous complexities within the probate process or you don’t know where to start, probate solicitors could be helpful. As professionals with plenty of experience dealing with these difficult circumstances, Redkite solicitors can offer guidance by executing the Will.

Having a second pair of hands to deal with applications to the probate registry and legal complexities can reduce the hassle and heartache associated with the probate process. We can provide legal advice regarding a wide range of issues. To speak to one of our friendly  solicitors about your circumstances, contact RedKite Solicitors today.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.