How long does probate take?
Probate, the legal process of administering a deceased person’s estate, can take anywhere from a few months to 1-2 years (or longer if there are problems) to complete. There are various different factors that contribute to the length of the probate process, including (but not limited to) the size and complexity of the estate, whether there is property to sell and whether the will is contested.
Additionally, the efficiency of the Personal Representative (PR), who is the executor or administrator responsible for overseeing the probate process, can also dictate how long it takes.
How long is probate currently taking in the UK?
As of February 2023, even simple probates can take six to nine months to complete as the Probate Registry in the UK is quoting 16 weeks to process applications for a grant of probate.
Key stages of the probate process
Probate involves several steps that must be completed to properly administer the estate of a deceased person.
In short, these stages are:
- valuing the assets of the estate and reporting this to HMRC
- paying inheritance tax
- applying for a grant of probate
- paying debts and expenses
- distributing the remaining assets according to the terms of the will (or under the Intestacy Rules if there is no will)
The larger and more complex the estate, the longer it is likely to take to complete these steps. For example, if the estate includes several properties, it will take longer to liquidate the estate and distribute to the beneficiaries.
What can delay the probate process?
There are several things that can delay the probate process. Common causes include (but are not limited to):
- Lack of a will
- People contesting the will
- Difficulty locating assets
- Difficulty valuing assets (including HMRC investigations)
- Complex tax or Trusts issues
- Difficulty locating beneficiaries
- Inefficient Personal Representatives
- Delays caused when selling property
- Death of an executor
1. Lack of a will
If there is no will the PRs administering the estate will have to distribute the assets in accordance with the Intestacy Rules. This means identifying family members in certain categories (children, siblings, etc). This can cause huge delays if enquiry agents need to be instructed to locate missing beneficiaries either in the UK or abroad.
2. People contesting the will
There are many reasons why a person may contest a will. They may feel that the will was made under duress, made when the deceased did not have the mental capacity to make a will or there may be errors made in the wills execution (among other reasons). If there is a challenge of this nature, it will likely need to be resolved before probate is applied for.
3. Difficulty locating assets
Sometimes is it not clear whether assets belong to the deceased or not. Family members may tell the PRs of property they are aware of abroad or of bank accounts or investments they understood the deceased to have but about which the PRs have no information. The value of the estate as at the date of death must be reported to HMRC accurately in order to calculate if any inheritance tax is due so these investigations must be completed before the value of the estate can be finalised.
4. Difficulty valuing assets (including HMRC investigations)
Any difficulty valuing an asset, including HMRC investigations of the value of property in the estate, is inevitably going to cause delays of several months.
5. Complex tax or Trusts issues
Similar to asset valuations, if there are any complex tax or trust issues in the estate, these may take many months to resolve.
6. Difficulty locating beneficiaries
As noted in relation to (1) above, there may be delays if beneficiaries need to be located in order to either administer an intestacy or to pay them their inheritance under a will.
7. Inefficient Personal Representatives
8. Delays caused when selling property
It’s always difficult to know how long it may take to sell property, not least because how long it takes may depend upon market conditions as the time and the price sought.
9. Death of an executor
If an executor dies, this is also likely to cause delays as either replacement executors have to come forward to apply for probate or, when probate has already been granted to an executor, it is likely that a re-grant of probate will be needed for someone else to take over.
How long does probate take? Overall, the length of probate can vary significantly depending on the specific circumstances of the estate. It is important to be prepared and organised to help ensure that the process goes as smoothly as possible.