How Long Does it Take to Settle an Estate after Death?

20 April 2018

By Probate Solicitor Kim Hammond

The honest answer is similar to that of ‘How long is a piece of string?’ No two Estates are the same even though superficially they may appear to have similarities. As a general rule, smaller and/or less complex Estates are wound up far more swiftly than large or complicated Estates, but this is by no means always the case.

Our Probate team has completed Probate in 8 weeks but the time it takes will vary depending on a number of different factors, which can change how the process works.

How Long Do Most Estates Take to Settle?

It is often the case that an Estate can be finalised within 6 months of the date of death where, for example, there is no property to be sold and no other complicating factors.

At the start of an Estate administration, it is always hoped that all matters will be finalised within a year. One reason for this is that the Estate will be required to pay interest on pecuniary legacies (sums of money) that are paid to Beneficiaries after this time.

Our Probate Solicitors can estimate how long the administration of the Estate will take and provide this information in the initial stages, but this is very much subject to change as we deal with third parties such as the Probate Court and HMRC regarding Inheritance Tax matters.

Other circumstances can arise during the course of the administration which may delay matters. On the other hand, hurdles that have been anticipated may not in actual fact cause problems, meaning the administration is completed far quicker than expected.

Timescales can also be affected by two particular factors - (1) the assets in the Estate, and (2) how they are being passed down. These factors can impact on the administration in the following ways:

The Assets in the Estate

Where a deceased person has liquid assets only (such as bank accounts) and the Estate is not subject to Inheritance Tax then it would be reasonable to suppose that the administration could be concluded within a six month period.

This timescale will increase slightly where the Estate is subject to Inheritance Tax. This is because a tax return must be sent to HM Revenue and Customs and any tax must be paid before the Grant of Probate can be issued by the Court. The Grant of Probate is a legal document which grants authority to deal with a deceased person’s money, assets and property, and this is required before any assets can be realised.

Where the deceased owned a property in their sole name, and this is to be sold, the timescale for administration of the Estate is often determined by how long it takes to sell the property. It would be unusual for an Estate containing a property to be completed in less than 12 months.

The timescale can be extended significantly where the assets are more complicated. For example if the deceased had foreign assets or there are Trust interests involved, it can be impossible to estimate how long the administration will take. In these circumstances it may be necessary to instruct country-specific Lawyers or liaise with Trustees. 

How the Assets are Being Passed Down

This may simply be a matter of whether the deceased had a valid Will in place when they died or whether they died without a valid Will (known as dying ‘intestate’). However, even with a valid Will it may be more complicated if any Beneficiaries have died or are missing. 

If There Is a Will

As a general rule, an Estate with a valid Will where all Beneficiaries and Executors can be easily identified and are over the age of 18 should not lead to any undue delays. In these circumstances, if there are no other delays then the Estate could be distributed once the assets are realised and all tax and other administration matters are resolved.

Where there are Beneficiaries under the age of 18 or assets are being put into a Trust, it may be necessary for Trustees to be appointed and Trust accounts to be set up. There are obligations on Trustees to ensure that assets are properly invested and that they act in the best interests of the Beneficiaries. In light of this, the Trustees may require financial advice as to the best course of action to take.

If There Is No Will

If the deceased didn’t have a valid Will, their Estate will be passed down in accordance with inheritance laws called the Rules of Intestacy. These rules place individuals in order of priority, based on their relationship to the deceased.

It will often be necessary to locate Beneficiaries and prove their relationship to the deceased, and therefore their entitlement to the Estate. This is done with birth, marriage and death certificates going back as far as is necessary to show the common ancestry of the deceased and the Beneficiary. 

This can be a time consuming exercise. It may be that some branches of the family are unknown or have become estranged. Tracing agents may need to be instructed to find Beneficiaries, or it may be that only a partial family history can be provided and further investigation is required. Depending on the size of the family and their locations, this can be straightforward or very complicated.

With so many factors affecting how long it takes to settle an Estate, it is impossible to guarantee exactly how long it will take. At Co-op Legal Services our Probate Solicitors and case handlers always work to settle the Estate as quickly as possible.

With our Probate Complete Service we take full responsibility for getting Grant of Probate and dealing with the Legal, Tax (excluding VAT), Property and Estate Administration affairs*.

*We can also pay all the costs of a Co-op Funeralcare funeral, providing the Estate owns sufficient assets which can be sold in due course to repay our costs.

If someone has died and you need help with probate, contact us:

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