How Long after Death does Probate Have to Begin?

28 January 2019

There is no definitive time when the Probate process must be started after death. It should be said though that it is important for an Executor or Administrator to start the process as soon as they feel able to and it's also important that deadlines are met. Furthermore, not starting the Probate process at all can have very serious consequences.

The process of dealing with someone's affairs following a bereavement can understandably be a difficult time, and different people deal with this in different ways. For some people getting the Probate process started quickly after the death can help them to feel pro-active and start to get closure. Other people though need to take some time to grieve before being in a position to start the Probate process, and that's absolutely fine.

There are some essential things that will need to be done straight away when someone dies. These include making sure that any property is secure and adequately insured and notifying the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of the death, so that any benefits are stopped.

There is no set time when the Executors or Administrators of the Estate have to start the Probate process. This said, there are some important timeframes and deadlines to be aware of when considering when to start dealing with Probate.

The Executor's Year

Every Estate is different and will take a different amount of time to administer depending on the complexity of the distribution and the scope of the assets and liabilities (debts). However, there is a general expectation that an Executor or Administrator should complete the Estate administration within one year from the date of death. This is often referred to as "The Executor's Year."

Any cash gifts left in a Will should ordinarily be settled and paid to the appropriate Beneficiaries within the Executor's Year. If the gifts are paid after twelve months from the date of death then the Beneficiaries are entitled to receive interest in addition to their gift, which can be complicated to calculate.

There are numerous reasons why an Estate may take longer than a year to administer, including complex Inheritance Tax situations, lengthy property sales, or missing Beneficiaries. However, there is an expectation that an Executor or Administrator will do everything in their power to administer the Estate within a year.

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.

Inheritance Tax Deadlines

Where a Grant of Probate is being applied for, an Inheritance Tax Return will need to be completed and submitted to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). This will inform HMRC of the value of the Estate, detailing the assets and liabilities along with a calculation of how much Inheritance Tax is due (or confirmation that no Inheritance Tax is due).

Where there is a requirement for a full Inheritance Tax Return (an IHT400) to be submitted, HMRC give a deadline of twelve months from the date of death to receive the completed return. HMRC are able to charge the Estate penalties for Inheritance Tax Returns which are submitted late.

Where there is Inheritance Tax to pay on an Estate, a large portion of the tax will need to be paid by the end of the sixth month after the date of death. So if a person died on 14th March for example, the Inheritance Tax on their Estate would be due on 30th September. HMRC will charge interest on any tax which is not paid by the deadline, up until the time they receive the tax that's due to them.

It is important then to make the most of the first six months after a person has died to correctly value the Estate and ensure that – if there is tax to pay – arrangements are made to pay this, to reduce the amount of interest that might be added.

Varying an Estate

If any of the Beneficiaries wish to change or redirect their share of an Estate, subject to a number of conditions, they can legally vary the Estate. A Deed of Variation can be drawn up and signed at any time after the date of death, however for the Deed of Variation to be treated as valid for tax purposes, the Deed will need to be signed within two years of the date of death.

If the Deed of Variation is completed outside of this two year window, it can have potentially huge implications on the Inheritance Tax position of the Estate. It can also impact on the Inheritance Tax position for the Beneficiary who is attempting to vary their share.

Get Professional Help to Meet the Deadlines

There's a lot of work involved in Probate, with most Estates requiring 70 to 100 hours of complex tax, legal and administrative work. With our Probate Complete Service, our Probate specialists can take care of this on your behalf, while ensuring that Inheritance Tax is paid on time and that any other deadlines are met.

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

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