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How long does probate take in the UK?

Trusts and Probate

Dealing with the death of a loved one can be the most difficult period in any person’s life. When it comes to dealing with the administration of their estate our support can lessen the load. If you are looking for advice on managing probate, then our specialist team would be happy to help. Send us an enquiry today.

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What is probate?

Probate refers to the process of organising the property, money and other possessions of someone Statutory Willswho has passed away when they had a will. If someone dies without a will, Letters of Administration can be issued by the Probate Registry to the next of kin, authorising them to deal with the estate. However, the process is largely the same.

In the UK the process, as a whole, varies hugely depending on a number of factors including whether the deceased had a will (and if there was an executor named within that will). If there is no will in place, then the next of kin will need to apply for a ‘grant of letters of administration’. As a result, probate in the UK can take varying lengths of time depending on the circumstances.

Here we explore some of the different factors that can impact how long probate takes in the UK.

What is the probate process?

First of all, it is important to remember that not all people will need to go through the process of dealing with probate. For example, in some instances there is only jointly-owned assets (property and money), which pass to the spouse or civil partner of the person that has died. By the right to survivorship, production of the death certificate transfers ownership to the surviving joint owner so there is no requirement for probate.

If probate is required, automatically, then most cases will follow the below process:

  1. First the death of the individual will need to be registered.
  2. You will need to establish whether there is a will.
  3. An application for a Grant of Representation (also known as a Grant of Probate) will need to be made. A Grant of Representation is a court-issued document proving the executor’s entitlement to deal with the deceased estate. An executor is someone named in a will as taking legal responsibility for carrying out the instructions left in the will regarding the deceased’s estate. If there is no will, the administrator will take legal responsibility. The rules of intestacy determine who may apply to be the Administrator(s).
  4. Value the estate.
  5. Submit an inheritance tax form to the HMRC to see whether the estate is applicable for inheritance tax.
  6. Distribute the remaining assets, according to the will (if there is one) or the rules of intestacy.

Find out more about the probate and estate administration process.

Of course, the process may not follow these steps exactly, and for many it is their first time dealing with probate. At Hegarty Solicitors we specialise in the probate process, from the point at which someone dies – we understand there can be a lot of complexities to make sense of, so we always offer you clear guidance and bespoke advice.

Find out more about our probate fees.

What forms are necessary in probate?

In addition to the inheritance tax forms, Executor(s) or Administrator(s) will need to complete a Statement of truth. In this Statement, the Executor(s)/Administrator(s) must confirm their right to administer the estate of the deceased. They must confirm that the information provided in their application for a Grant of Representation is true and that the estate will be distributed according to the law and the wishes of the will.

How long does probate take after all the paperwork has been completed?

Due to the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has warned that due to the pressures of COVID-19 there may be delays in the granting of probate and therefore timescales may be longer than usual guidelines.

Under normal circumstances, timescales can vary hugely, but for the simple application for a Grant of Representation, this can normally be dealt with within 6 to 8 weeks. The Grant itself will normally be issued by the Probate Registry within 2-4 weeks. However, recently we have experienced delays of 12-16 weeks in some cases.

When it comes to then administering the estate (e.g. distributing the assets of the deceased), there can be significant variations in the length of time this can take. Depending on how complex the assets are (for example, depending on whether property, shares and investments are involved), then the timeframes can be significantly extended. For a straightforward estate (without property), then this could be administered within 4 to 6 months. In more complicated scenarios, and if Inheritance Tax needs to be factored in, then the probate could take up to 12 months to complete.

We have provided further information on what is involved and the expected timeframes in our page explaining our Probate Fees.

What can delay probate?  

As already mentioned, how long probate takes in the UK can be impacted on whether Inheritance Tax is involved. The overall estate will need to be valued to determine whether or not Inheritance Tax is due. The current threshold for Inheritance Tax is £325,000 though the Estate may qualify for an additional tax allowance called the Residential Nil Rate Band. The rules surrounding this tax allowance are quite complex and you should seek the advice of a member of our team about whether it will apply in your case. Regardless of whether the estate of the deceased is above or below the threshold, forms will need to be submitted to HMRC for review. If the estate is above the threshold, the probate will be prolonged as HMRC will review the valuation and the information submitted to them and there may be some disputes to address.

The Inheritance Tax that is due must be paid before HMRC will issue a receipt. This receipt will need to be sent to the Probate Registry before the Grant of Representation can be issued.

Another common reason for the Grant of Representation to be delayed is due to mistakes or missing information on the application for a Grant of Representation. Sometimes probate and the administration of an estate can be delayed due to disputes about the estate. This is a complex area beyond the scope of this note but if you think that the estate may be disputed then you should talk to a member of our team sooner rather than later.

Quite simply, how long a Grant of Representation can take in the UK will be linked to how busy the Probate Registry/HMRC is at the time. As with any office, if there is a backlog, this can delay processes and mean the probate takes longer. This is particularly true in the current period of time due to the pressures of covid-19.

For further information about a probate, please do contact us today – our specialist team can help you throughout the process and avoid any unnecessary delays.

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