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Why Does Probate Take so Long?

31st October 2018

Probate commonly takes around 9-12 months to complete. There are a number of factors that will directly impact on how long it takes to complete the administration of an Estate. We explain what these factors are and how they can delay the Probate process.

For free initial advice and guidance call our Probate Advisors on 03306069584 or contact us online and we will help you.

What is Probate?

When someone dies, there is a legal process that may need to be undertaken to wind up their affairs, pay off any outstanding debts they had and distribute their money and possessions to those entitled to inherit them.

This process is commonly referred to as Probate, and this term refers to the legal document that will be required in order to carry out these tasks – the Grant of Probate. In reality, however, the Grant of Probate only relates to Estates where the deceased left a Will. If no Will was left, then this document is called the Grant of Letters of Administration. The two documents work in a very similar way, but in the interests of simplicity, we will refer to the Grant of Probate in this article.

The Grant of Probate gives a named person legal authority to administer the deceased's Estate. This means that they can legally close bank accounts, sell any property and carry out all of the other necessary tasks. The person named on the Grant of Probate will be the person responsible for administering the Estate and this person is called the Executor (or the Administrator if there is no Will).

What's Involved in Probate?

There is a lot of legal, tax and administrative work involved in Probate. The Probate process is explained in more detail here.

In brief, the Executor will need to:

  1. Locate and value all Estate assets
  2. Identify any outstanding debts
  3. Calculate the Estate value
  4. Calculate Inheritance, Income and/or Capital Gains Tax and liaise with HMRC to pay any tax that's due
  5. Identify and contact all Beneficiaries of the Estate
  6. Apply to the Probate Registry for the Grant of Probate
  7. Sell or transfer property, shares and other assets owned by the deceased
  8. Close down any bank accounts held in the deceased's sole name
  9. Settle outstanding debts
  10. Prepare the Estate accounts (showing all payments into and out of the Estate)
  11. Distribute the remaining Estate to Beneficiaries in line with the terms of the Will or intestacy laws.

What Can Slow the Process Down?

1. Obtaining the Grant of Probate

As you can see, obtaining the Grant of Probate is just one element of a long and complex process. However, the Grant of Probate will be required to carry out a lot of this work and it can take up to 3 months arrive. So if you don't apply for the Grant of Probate 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 complications.

3. Problems with the Will

A poorly drafted Will can cause significant issues when it comes to administering an Estate. 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. If you find yourself in this situation then you could be facing lengthy delays before matters are resolved and the administration of the Estate can move forward.

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 onward 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 person responsible for administering the Estate passes away during this process then inevitably this can cause significant delays. A new Executor will need to be assigned who will then need to step in and take over the rest of the administration. 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 searched 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. This can result in further delays to Probate. 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.

Co-op Legal Services is the largest provider of Probate and Estate Administration services in England and Wales, trusted to deal with over £1.3 billion in Estates annually.

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