How Long Does Probate Take?

It’s hard to say how long Probate takes, as it all depends on the circumstances. A simple application may take as little as three months, after which you’ll need to begin the process of estate administration.

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By Nicola Briggs - 24th June 2021

It’s hard to say how long Probate takes, as it all depends on the circumstances. A simple application may take as little as three months, after which you’ll need to begin the process of estate administration.

Getting a Grant of Representation

When someone dies, their surviving family members may have to get a Grant of Representation. This is a legal document issued by the Probate Registry, and allows an appointed person (or people) to wind up the deceased’s affairs. If there is a valid Will, then this document is known more specifically as a Grant of Probate. If there isn’t a Will, then it’s called a Grant of Letters of Administration.

The presence or absence of a Will can sometimes cause initial delays. This is because where there is a Will, there will likely be a named Executor. This person can start the process immediately. But where there isn't a Will, the correct and most suitable applicant has to be selected from within the family or beneficiaries. This could cause a set-back if there is a disagreement as to who should make the application.

How long does Probate take?

Once the Executor or Administrator is ready to act, they can begin preparing the application to send to the Probate Registry. At this stage, people often ask us how long the process takes. It doesn’t matter whether you are applying for a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration, our answer is always the same: it all depends on the circumstances.

This is because there is a lot of work to do, before you can actually submit the application to the Probate Registry. So, it really just depends on how soon you can start the process, and how much work is required of you. A simple application to the Probate Registry may only take three months, whereas a more complicated application may take years.

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Calculating the value of the estate 

Often the biggest task that Executors and Administrators face is calculating the value of the assets and liabilities within the estate. This is so that HMRC can verify whether any tax liabilities are due. HMRC will not accept reckless judgment calls which are unsupported by evidentiary documentation. They can disagree with the valuations submitted, and there will be penalties, and possibly interest, payable in respect of underpaid tax.

Once this stage has been completed, it will be possible to identify whether the application for a Grant can proceed on the simple tax form or the more complex one. This will have a major bearing on the next steps – and ultimately, how long the process takes.

In the case of the simple Inheritance Tax form, the application can be submitted immediately to the Probate Registry. With the complex form, it has to be submitted to HMRC first. They, in turn, can take five or six weeks to record the information before passing on a certificate to the Probate Registry. This certificate confirms that tax information has been received for a particular estate, allowing the Probate application to proceed. However, the certificate does not automatically mean that HMRC is satisfied with the information.

If you use the complex form, then the Probate Registry is currently asking that you withhold your Probate application until five weeks have elapsed (starting from the date you submitted the form to HMRC). If they receive the application early, it will be set to one side.

What happens next?

Once all the paperwork has been completed, the application can be submitted to the Probate Registry. The Registry will then process your application. So long as there are no problems, a Grant should be issued within a matter of months.

However, it is worth noting that the Probate Registry has started to digitize applications, starting with the easiest ones first. Not every application can be made digitally – some still have to be paper based. In more complex cases, it is likely that they will be paper based for the foreseeable future. Due to the implementation of these changes, the Probate Registry themselves are suffering delays whilst they iron out the teething problems. Hopefully in a year or two, applications will be turned around within weeks, and not months.

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Administering the estate

Getting a Grant of Representation is only the first stage. Next, the Executor or Administrator has to administer the estate. This involves gathering in the deceased’s assets, paying off any debtors and distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries.

It is not advisable to fully administer an estate too quickly, in case unknown debts and claims raise their head. We have known families who have dissipated the funds amongst themselves, only to find a claim from the DWP for pension credit overpayment in the region of £15,000. The person who has taken on the responsibility of dissipating those funds within the family can be held personally liable. They will be considered as having taken on the role of Executor or Administrator, even if they have not been officially appointed.

Is there a time limit?

In England and Wales, there is no time limit within which an application must be made for a Grant of Representation. Frequently, our conveyancing department encounters a property title which is in the name of a family member who died 10 years beforehand. The conveyancing department will refer the matter to our private client department, which will then apply for a Grant, even though the death was more than 10 years ago.

The problem with a delayed application is that collating the information as to the value of the assets and liabilities as at the date of death can be more difficult. Furthermore, the deceased's assets will remain frozen, until a Grant has been obtained. We therefore recommend that you start work on the Probate process sooner, rather than later.

Can I use a Probate solicitor? 

Getting a Grant of Probate and administering an estate can require a lot of work, and take up a lot of your time. That is why you are perfectly entitled to ask a Probate Solicitor to complete the process on your behalf. If you’re looking for Probate Solicitors, contact us now at Aticus Law. We can help you.

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