How Long Does Probate Take if There is a Will?

20 January 2020

While the presence of a Will can make the Probate process quicker, this is not always the case. On average, in England and Wales, it takes between 9 and 12 months to obtain the Grant of Probate and to complete the Estate administration process, regardless of whether or not there's a Will.

It can take longer than this though and there are a number of delays that can occur along the way. For example, if a property needs to be sold but there are issues with the sale, this in turn will delay the Probate process.

Probate explained

Probate is the term commonly used to describe the process of administering a deceased person's Estate. This term refers to a legal document which is often needed in order to carry out this work. If the deceased left a Will, this document is called a Grant of Probate and if they didn't, it's called a Grant of Letters of Administration.

Both of these documents work in the same way, granting a named person legal authority to close down a deceased person's bank accounts, sell their property, settle their debts and so on. For ease, we will refer to the Grant of Probate throughout this article, but the same applies to the Grant of Letters of Administration.

Whether or not you need Probate depends on what assets the deceased left behind and who will be inheriting these. People often assume that Probate is not required if there is a Will, but this isn't true. It's the assets in the Estate that determine whether Probate is needed, not the presence (or absence) of a Will.

Probate if there is a Will

At the start of the Probate process you'll need to find out whether the deceased person left a legally valid Will, as this dictates who should apply for Probate and who the Beneficiaries are.

When someone writes a Will, they name Executors, who are the people they want to administer their Estate after their death. They can also choose who should benefit from their Estate after their death – these are their Beneficiaries.

Therefore if there is a Will, it's the Executors who must apply to the Probate Registry for a Grant of Probate. On average this takes between three and six months to be issued. For more information, see How Long Does Grant of Probate Take.

Once the Grant of Probate has been issued, it's the duty of the Executors to continue with the administration of the Estate. Our Probate Solicitors estimate that on average, the entire Probate and Estate administration process takes between nine and twelve months.

However this is only an average. Straightforward Estates with no property to deal with can be completed faster than this. On the other hand more complex Estates can take longer, particularly if assets are held overseas.

Another factor that impacts on how long an Estate takes to administer is the amount of time that the Executor can dedicate to completing this work. Probate involves a significant amount of legal, tax and administrative work which can be very time consuming. If this work is not completed in a timely manner, the Probate process will inevitably take longer. For this reason, many Executors choose to instruct a Probate Specialist to do this work on their behalf.

Is probate faster with a Will?

The Probate process is largely the same regardless of whether or not there's a Will. This means that Probate isn't necessarily faster if there is a Will.

However, the presence of a Will can make things more clear-cut. For instance, the loved ones of the deceased will know exactly who the Executors should be. The Executors will also know the names of the Beneficiaries, and exactly what the deceased wanted them to inherit.

Having this information to hand can be a relief for friends and family, who will know that they are following the deceased's wishes.

However, all Estates are subject to potential delays and sometimes these can actually relate to the Will.

For instance, the relatives of the deceased may not be able to find the original Will or the latest version of it. Searching for a missing Will can be hard as there's no national register. It can be especially complicated if the organisation that drafted the Will has since closed down.

Additionally, if someone has been excluded from the Will, he/she may make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act.

If the Will has not been properly drafted, this can cause uncertainty around what the deceased would have wanted. Ultimately a poorly drafted Will could even be found to be invalid; a process which could significantly delay the Probate process.

Why does probate take so long?

Probate is a long and complex process, and there are lots of factors at play. These are some of the most common causes of delay:

1. Obtaining the grant of probate The grant of probate can take up to 3 months to arrive once the application has been sent to the probate registry. If the application isn't submitted early on, this could hold things up further down the line.

2. Paying Inheritance Tax Any outstanding Inheritance Tax that's due from the Estate will need to be paid to HM Revenue & Customs before the Probate Registry will issue the Grant of Probate. If the Executor is unable to settle the Inheritance Tax bill, then this will cause delays.

3. Problems with the Will As we've mentioned, poorly drafted Will can cause significant issues during probate. If the Will is unclear, invalid or incomplete then family members may disagree on who is entitled to receive what. Homemade or DIY Wills commonly cause these types of issues.

4. Selling the property Anyone who has sold a home will be familiar with just how unpredictable this process can be. Unfortunately this is no different when selling a Probate property. Although it's likely that there will be no upward chain, there will still be a host of other elements that can hold up the sale, just as with any other property sale. For more information, see Potential Delays in Conveyancing.

5. Death of an Executor If the executor or administrator dies during probate, someone else will need to be appointed in their place. They will then step in and take over the rest of the administration, but this can result in delays. Usually this responsibility will fall to the person named as the executor of the recently deceased executor.

6. Missing Beneficiaries Sometimes locating and contacting Beneficiaries isn't as straight forward as it sounds. If a Beneficiary can't be easily identified or located, then inquiries will need to be made and searches will need to be carried out. For more information on how to carry out these searches, see Searching for Missing Beneficiaries during Probate.

7. Third Party Delays The more complex the Estate, the more third parties are likely to be involved. If there are foreign assets, for example, then it can take time to get the necessary authorisation to sell or transfer these, or if the deceased owned shares or an interest in a Trust, then the administration associated with these assets is likely to add time to the Probate process.

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.

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