How long does Probate take?
There is no set time limit for how long it takes an estate take to go through probate or complete the estate administration but in most cases it takes months not weeks. Estate administration can be a complicated process and sometimes unpredictable, there are many factors that can cause probate to be delayed, making it impossible to give a definitive answer to how long does probate take.
However we can make some estimations of how long probate will take to be granted and when the administration will be completed. This can be done by separating the process into 3 parts, before the application, once the application is with the probate office and once probate has been granted.
How long does probate take to be applied for?
How long it takes for the application to be completed is firstly dependent on the applicant’s access to information about the estate. Unfortunately this is often reliant on other people, be it a solicitor holding the Will, statements for bank accounts from financial institutions, probate valuations from estate agents/property valuers or family members doing their bit in a timely and efficient manner.
In cases where the deceased kept clear and tidy records of their financial affairs, held assets with few institutions and the estates value is below their inheritance tax threshold, a probate application can be made in a matter of days.
In cases where the deceased held several assets, with several Institutions or kept messy accounts it will take longer to gather all the information required to complete probate application. The more companies and institutions involved the more reliant the applicant is on everybody providing information in a timely manner which is not always the case. Gathering all the information required to complete the application forms can take a couple of weeks.
Applications for estates where Inheritance Tax is payable will also take longer to prepare as it is necessary to obtain professional valuations for the assets and to calculate the correct amount of inheritance tax. This process can take a couple weeks to complete before an application can be made.
Along with external factors that can delay the probate application, the time it takes to deal with probate is heavily dependent on the executors willingness and capability to apply. A reluctant or overwhelmed executor will take a much longer time to go through probate this could be because they are putting it off and burying their head in the sand or because they are not sure of the probate process and the correct procedures. Either way this can add weeks and sometimes months to the probate application process.
Cases where it is impossible to give any time indication is if unexpected complications arise, these could be liabilities against the estate, discovery of previously unknown assets or disagreements and disputes.
How long does probate take after sending the application?
Unlike the administration aspect of probate, the probate office does provide a bit more structure to the process. Although once your application has been lodge with the probate office there is little you can do to speed up the processing of your application.
The average time it takes for the probate office to reach your application can vary depending on time of year, how busy the registry is and how many staff they have. Although there is no set time limit for the probate office to process your application, we are able to get an indication of how long it will take using timescales from previous applications. These timescales are different for non-taxable estates, taxable estates and urgent situations (for example for court cases).
• Applications for a non-taxable estate, this is an estate where no inheritance tax is payable due to the estates value being below the deceased’s inheritance tax allowance, can be with the probate office for around 2-8 weeks.
• Applications for a taxable estate, this is an estate where inheritance tax is payable due to the estates value being above the deceased’s inheritance tax allowance, can take around 10-12 weeks. Taxable estates take longer to be processed as they are reviewed by HMRC to check the correct amount of tax is being paid. If they believe there is an inaccuracy in the values or the calculations they will query the application, which in the some cases can take some time to resolve.
• Applications for urgent situations can be processed in around 2 weeks. Urgent situations are mostly restricted to court cases although there are sometimes other situations where the process can be expedited.
How long it takes for the application to be processed is also dependent on the competency of the person making the application. Applications that have a lot of errors will take longer to be approved and will require a lot of back and forth between the applicant and probate office until all the details are correct. In some cases an entire new application may be requested.
How long does probate take after swearing the Oath?
If you have sworn the oath at your local probate registry you should receive the grant of probate or letters of administration within 10 days of your appointment.
If you have sworn the oath at a Commissioner of Oaths (usually a local solicitors office) you will receive your grant within 10 days of the probate registry receiving your oath.
How long does an executor have to distribute will?
An executor has a minimum of a year in which to distribute the estates assets to the beneficiaries. It is not uncommon for probate to take up to a year or longer, although a lot of estates can be completed in less time than that, often between 6 to 9 months.
A factor to take into consideration is that if an executor is not a solicitor or professional they are having to administer the estate whilst still managing their day to day lives and in most cases will not have the same understanding of the legal system, this can have a noticeable effect on the probate application timescale. A beneficiary should allow the executor a year to sort out probate and the estates assets before pursuing their inheritance.
How long after probate is granted do you pay beneficiaries?
Once the executor has a grant of probate they can collect the estates assets relatively quickly, ready to be distributed to the beneficiaries. How long until the estate is distributed is dependent on a few factors, these could be allowing for potential liabilities against the estate, liquidating property or arranging receipts/acceptance letters for beneficiaries.
It is standard practice for solicitors to post an advertisement in The London Gazette to allow any potential debtors against the estate a period of 2 months to come forward to claim what they are owed. This protects the executor from future liability if a debtor was to come forward at a later date. Although a notice can be placed before obtaining probate the estate should not be distributed to any beneficiaries until this 2 month period has passed and any claims have been settled.
Another factor which will delay distribution is if the estate needs to be liquidated, this most commonly applies to property. Money from the sale of a property cannot be distributed until the property has been sold. Just as with any conveyancing transaction the time it takes to find a buyer and complete a sale is indeterminable. However this doesn’t mean that the estates liquid assets cannot be distributed, although it would be wise to keep behind some liquid assets to pay for future costs involving the property.