How long does Probate take?

30 Sep 2019

Well, more often than not, longer than you think. My advice to clients is that Probate can take anywhere between 6 and 12 months.

A realistic timescale for a straightforward estate is most likely around 3 to 6 months. Usually establishing that a Grant will be needed is quite quick but then you need to account for the time it will take for third parties to respond with the information you need in order to complete the necessary probate application papers (i.e. the appropriate inheritance tax account and statement of truth).

Account for delays and complications

From experience, there are some organisations which take longer than others to respond. But even the most ‘straightforward’ estate can face delays if a deceased’s paperwork is not in order and, therefore, a bit more work is required to establish what were the deceased’s assets and liabilities on death, or if it cannot be easily established whether or not the deceased made a Will.

Some practical advice would be to notify your chosen executors that you have prepared a Will naming them as executors and provide details of where the original and latest Will is stored. In addition, keeping only relevant and current paperwork relating to your assets and liabilities and any old or obsolete correspondence destroyed.

Obtaining Probate for more complex estates

For more complex estates, it is not an exaggeration to say that it can take more like 12 months to obtain Probate. If the deceased held considerable assets then it is usually necessary to have these assets professionally valued, especially if the estate will be subject to inheritance tax.

Keep a clear record of lifetime Gifting

Another aspect of the Probate process that can sometimes slow matters down is working out what gifting the deceased made in the 7 years prior to their date of death. Whether the estate is taxable or not, this is a question which needs to be accurately answered in the inheritance tax account.

The reason for this is because lifetime gifting over the deceased’s annual allowance may impact on a deceased individual’s Nil Rate Band Allowance which is the allowance every individual is afforded before their estate becomes subject to inheritance tax at 40%. A good piece of advice for clients is to keep a clear and up to date record of their lifetime gifting so that very little investigation is required by their personal representatives (i.e. the people responsible for administering your estate on death).

Make a note of the date any gifts are made, who they are made to and how much was gifted or what the gift was. If you make regular gifts, or intend for a gift to be regular, it is advisable to make a note of these regular gifts and why you are making them, for example if you have excess income and you, therefore, do not require this income so you wish to gifts out of this excess income.

Delays at the Probate Registry

At this moment in time, the biggest factor that is slowing down the Probate process is long delays at the Probate Registry. It used to take 7 to 10 working days to receive the Grant following an application to the Probate Registry but, the latest update from the Probate Registry, is to allow 8 to 12 weeks for an application to be processed. This is due to a significant increase in applications following the announcement that the probate fees were increasing significantly resulting in a backlog of applications and also a change in the government IT system.

It is worth mentioning that these delays are having a direct impact on the speed at which probate properties can be sold – it is not possible to exchange on a probate property unless the Grant is issued. It is, therefore, advisable to notify your clients or the estate agent of this fact where a sale has been agreed but the Grant has not yet been received.

Furthermore, these long delays are also affecting the speed at which inheritance tax can be paid. It is necessary to pay inheritance tax within 6 months of death (otherwise interest and penalties can be incurred) but it is usual that some estate assets are required to be sold in order to fund this inheritance tax payment. The problem is that it is not possible to sell assets without the grant.

There are, however, loan facilities available should the payment of inheritance tax fall due before the Grant is issued. Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done to speed up these delays and the advice given to practitioners is not to chase as this results in Probate Registry staff coming away from their main role of processing the applications and to ensure applications are correct as otherwise the application can join the back of the queue if amendments are needed.

Do you need help with the Probate process? Our team of experienced Probate solicitors are experienced in helping you complete the process as quickly and smoothly as possible. Call our team today on 0800 2800 421 to discuss your Probate requirements.