Timeframes for probate

Obtaining the grant of representation and administering an estate typically takes 9-12 months to complete

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Probate typically takes 9-12 months to settle an estate. However, it can sometimes take longer if, for example, there is a property to sell, complex Inheritance, Income or Capital Gains Tax affairs to resolve or there are complications regarding the personal representatives or beneficiaries of the estate.

Your probate case manager will be in close contact with organisations such as HM Revenue & Customs, HM Court Service, the Department for Work and Pensions and all relevant financial institutions during the estate administration. They will also work to make sure that progress with these organisations is achieved as quickly as possible.

How long does probate take without a will?

In England and Wales, the amount of time it takes to go through probate is the same, regardless of whether or not the deceased left a will. For more information, see probate without a will.

How soon do I have to apply for probate?

In England & Wales there are no time limits when applying for probate or settling an estate. There is also no definitive time when the probate process must be started after death. But you might not be able to deal with your loved one’s affairs until you’ve got a grant of probate, so you might not want to delay for too long.

Additionally as the executor or administrator of the estate, you need to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries. If you delay for too long, they will be within their rights to question this.

There are time limits and deadlines though when it comes to Inheritance Tax and 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.

Time limit for Inheritance Tax

If the short Inheritance Tax Return (Form IHT205) is used because there's no Inheritance Tax to pay, there is no deadline to submit the form. However, if the long Inheritance Tax Return (Form IHT400) is used then it must be submitted within a year of the death.

If Inheritance Tax is payable, it must be paid within six months of the death. If this six month deadline isn't met, there could be additional interest or financial penalties.

Again, if you are the executor or administrator of the estate, failing to submit an inheritance tax return in time could prompt the beneficiaries to complain. Beneficiaries can even ask a court to remove an executor from their role.

How long after paying Inheritance Tax will probate be granted?

Once the Inheritance Tax has been paid, HM Revenue & Customs will issue a receipt for this within 4 to 6 weeks. This will need to be sent to the Probate Registry along with the application for the grant of representation. Providing there are no issues with the application, the grant of representation will usually be issued 2 to 3 weeks later.

How long after a person dies will beneficiaries be notified?

Beneficiaries of an estate should be contacted and notified of their inheritance soon after the death. This responsibility lies with the executor or administrator of the estate.

Under the law of England and Wales, there is no specified timeframe for the beneficiaries to be notified, but it should happen early on in the probate process. If a beneficiary is missing or cannot be contacted for any reason then this will inevitably delay the time it takes for them to be notified.

Timeframes for probate

Every estate is different and can take a different length of time to administer depending on its complexity. There is a general expectation that an executor or administrator should try to complete the estate administration within a year of the death, and this is referred to as the executor's year. There are numerous reasons why an estate may take longer than a year to administer though, including complex Inheritance Tax situations, lengthy property sales or missing beneficiaries.

As every estate is different, your case manager will keep you updated and inform you of the likely timescales to carry out the administration of the estate. Below is an outline of the typical timeframes for administering an estate without complex affairs:

Month 1

Starting your case

On receipt of your case, your case manager will carry out a detailed legal review of the estate to clarify the issues that will need addressing in order to apply for the grant of representation. They'll let you know if they need anything else from you before we start valuing assets and liabilities in the estate to get a grant of representation.

Months 3 to 6

Applying for the grant of representation

To apply for the grant of representation it is necessary to have:

  • contacted all identifiable financial institutions in order to accurately verify and value the estate
  • completed the relevant Inheritance Tax forms and finalised the Inheritance Tax position with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) (whether there is Inheritance Tax to pay or not)
  • completed all documentation necessary for the court application, including checking the validity of the will or accurately applying the rules of intestacy where no valid will exists

Typically, it takes three to six months to complete all the necessary legal, tax and administration work, submit the application and receive the grant of representation from the court.

Months 6 to 9

Interim distributions to the beneficiaries

Once the grant of representation has been received it can be sent to the bank. After the bank has received all the necessary documents, the money in the accounts will usually be released within 10 to 15 working days.

Once the grant of representation has been received, adverts are placed in the London Gazette and a local paper. These adverts have a two month notice period within which creditors of the estate can claim for any debts. This significantly reduces the risk of future claims by creditors against the estate or we can help you with protecting yourself and the beneficiaries through insurance cover.

After this period, provided we have funds available and no outstanding debts, it is usually possible to distribute some of the estate to the beneficiaries.

Months 9 to 12

Final distributions to the beneficiaries

Claims can still be made against the estate in the six months following the receipt of the grant of representation by anyone who believes they are entitled to benefit. It is important to ensure that all potential claims on the estate are resolved before the final distributions are made.

Assuming that there are no claims and everything proceeds smoothly, we can usually finalise all the legal, tax and administration work and distribute the rest of the estate to the beneficiaries within 9-12 months.

When cases may finish sooner

Because every estate is different, the above timescales are just estimates based on our experience of dealing with many thousands of estates over the years. Your case manager will be happy to give you a more specific time estimate based on the facts of your case.

The good news is that, if the circumstances of the estate are straightforward, we may be able to accelerate certain aspects of the work (such as the application for the grant of representation) and finish the estate administration sooner than we have said above. This might happen if, for example, there is no property in the estate, or if there is a property and it either gets transferred to a beneficiary or sells very quickly.

How long do people have to make a claim on an estate?

If someone wants to make a claim on a deceased person's estate, they only have a limited time to do so. The deadline to make a claim is 6 months from the grant of representation being issued, though they may be able to apply to the court for an extension.

If the grant of representation hasn't yet been issued, it's possible to lodge a caveat at the Probate Registry. This will prevent the grant from being issued and, in turn, prevent any payments from being made out of the estate while the claim is being investigated. A caveat can remain in place for up to 6 months.

Under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975, certain individuals can make a claim against the estate for "reasonable financial provision". These individuals include the spouse, former spouse or a child of the person who died. This is called contentious probate.