How Long Does Probate Take?

by | Jan 18, 2024 | Probate

Understanding Factors and Solutions for Delays

Probate is the legal process through which the estate of the deceased is administered. It involves confirming the authenticity of the will, valuing the estate, paying debts and taxes, and distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries. The duration of the probate process can vary significantly, with documentation and accurate completion of forms are crucial for avoiding delays. Technological advancements have somewhat streamlined the process, enabling online applications to be processed faster than traditional paper applications. However, errors in paperwork, tax issues, and legal complexities can cause significant hold-ups. Understanding the steps involved and preparing effectively can help executors navigate the probate process more efficiently and overcome potential challenges that may arise.

Key Takeaways

  • Probate duration can vary but online applications may speed up processing time.
  • Accurate documentation and careful planning can prevent common delays.
  • Leveraging technology helps in making the probate process more efficient.
  • Our Probate Services can help to minimise delays and assist you with the process

The Probate Process

The probate process is essential to settle the estate of someone who has passed away. It involves several legal and financial steps that aim to resolve all claims and distribute the deceased’s property under a will.

Steps in the Probate Process

  1. Confirmation of authority: The process starts with establishing the legal right to deal with the estate, usually through a grant of probate or letters of administration if no will exists.
  2. Valuation of the estate: One must ascertain the total value of the deceased’s assets and liabilities.
  3. Paying inheritance tax: If applicable, the appropriate inheritance tax based on the estate’s value must be paid.
  4. Grant of probate: The executors apply for a grant of probate, a legal document which confirms their authority to deal with the deceased’s estate.
  5. Estate administration: This includes gathering assets, paying off any debts, and distributing what remains according to the will or rules of intestacy.
  6. Closing of the process: Once all debts and taxes are paid, and beneficiaries have received their inheritance, the estate can be legally closed.

Documents Required for Probate

To apply for probate, one must gather several documents:

  • The original will: A vital document that outlines the deceased’s wishes.
  • Death certificate: Needed to prove the death of the individual.
  • Probate application form PA1: Required whether making an online application or a paper application.
  • Inheritance Tax form: Even if no tax is due, either form IHT205 or IHT400 is necessary.
  • Asset statements: Including bank accounts, property, and other investments belonging to the deceased, to value the estate.

Probate Application

The probate application can be done either online or through paper forms. Online applications are generally faster:

  • For an online application, the submission is directly through the HM Courts and Tribunals Service.
  • Paper applications involve sending the necessary documents by post and can take considerably longer to process.

Ensuring information and documentation is complete will help to avoid any delays. Applications are scrutinised carefully, and any inaccuracies or omissions can extend the timeline significantly.

Probate Duration Factors

The length of time it takes to complete probate can vary considerably, influenced by a complex interplay of factors. It’s crucial to understand these factors to realistically gauge the duration of the process.

Average Waiting Time

In the UK, the average waiting time for processing a grant of probate can stretch from a couple of months to over a year. Online applications may take over two months on average, whereas paper applications could face a wait of about five months. For a more straightforward estate, the process might conclude within a few months; however, more typically, completing probate in the UK usually takes 9 to 12 months.

Factors Affecting Duration

Several factors can influence how long the probate process will take. They include:

  • HMRC Involvement: Dealing with inheritance tax issues can be time-consuming, especially if the deceased’s estate is extensive and complex.
  • Complexity of the Estate: If the deceased owned numerous assets, businesses, or properties, sorting out the estate becomes more involved and lengthier.
  • Claims Against the Estate: Creditors must have an opportunity to make claims against the estate, and this notice period can add to the timeline.
  • Lawyer Involvement: Engaging a Lawyer to handle probate can either speed up the process with expert handling or occasionally slow it down, depending on the efficiency and workload of the legal professionals involved.
  • Court Delays: The efficiency of the probate court and any backlog can delay proceedings, especially if the case requires the court to resolve disputes.

Understanding these variables is crucial for managing expectations regarding the duration of probate following the death of a loved one. Each estate is unique, and patience is often required as the various legal, tax, and personal elements are resolved.

Common Probate Delays

When administering an estate, certain factors can significantly prolong the probate process, which can be stressful for executors and beneficiaries. Understanding these common issues is essential to effectively navigate and potentially reduce waiting times.

Inheritance Tax Issues

Inheritance tax (IHT) complications are a frequent cause of probate delays. Before probate is granted, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) must assess whether IHT is due and collect any owed tax. Inaccurate valuations or missing information can lead to extensive correspondence with HMRC, further delaying proceedings.

Disputes and Claims

Disputes among potential beneficiaries or claims against the estate, such as challenging the validity of the will, can halt the probate process. Solicitors often intervene to resolve these disputes, which can be legally complex and time-consuming, leading to significant hold-ups.

Estate Complexity

The complexity of the estate is a key contributor to probate duration. Estates with multiple properties, investments, and assets across different jurisdictions require meticulous examination and can overwhelm the executors, especially if they are handling the process without professional assistance, resulting in slower processing times.

Errors in Paperwork

Submitting a paper application can lead to delays if there are errors or omissions in the documentation. The HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) processes thousands of applications, and even small mistakes can lead to applications being returned, adding weeks or even months to the timeline.

How to Avoid Delays

When embarking on the probate process, efficiency hinges on meticulous preparation and proactive engagement. Avoiding delays is achievable through a steadfast adherence to accuracy, and strategic utilisation of professional guidance.

Accurate and Thorough Documentation

Ensuring all documents are accurately completed and thoroughly checked, is imperative. A single omission or error in the application for probate can lead to significant hold-ups. The documentation should include a correctly validated will and a comprehensive inventory of the deceased’s assets and liabilities. It is advisable to double-check any tax forms required as part of the application, as inaccuracies can lead to time-consuming queries from HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS).

Professional Assistance

Enlisting the aid of a solicitor or probate specialist can be invaluable. These professionals possess a wealth of experience in identifying potential issues that could cause delays and can offer advice that ensures a smoother process. When choosing a solicitor or specialist, it’s crucial to engage with someone who specialises in probate and can navigate the complexities of the system, potentially expediting the timeframe.

Managing Beneficiary Expectations

Clear communication with beneficiaries helps manage their expectations and can prevent misunderstandings that often cause setbacks. Explaining the steps involved, potential timeframes, and any actions they need to take can keep the process flowing. The involvement of a solicitor here also can help clarify any complex legal details that may arise, ensuring that all beneficiaries are fully informed throughout the process.

Technological Impacts

The efficiency of the probate process has been influenced significantly by the choice between online and paper-based applications, with technological advancements offering both benefits and challenges.

Online Vs. Paper Applications

Online system improvements aim to streamline the probate application process. offers digital applications for probate, which have been reported to take, on average, around 8.2 weeks to process, considerably quicker than their paper counterparts. These online submissions leverage the speed of digital scanning and data entry, which can expedite case handling by eliminating the need to manually input information from paper documents.

Paper applications, on the other hand, often result in greater delays. A study found that these can take an average of 21.1 weeks to be processed. This marked contrast underscores the time-saving potential of embracing digital applications. However, the digital system’s efficiency hinges on correct submissions; errors or omissions in applications can provoke processing stops by the HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) until rectified.

The decision to use an online system through can lead to more timely grant resolutions when compared with traditional paper applications. With a reliable internet connection, applicants can submit requests and necessary paperwork by scanning documents, thereby circumventing potential delays associated with postal services and manual handling.

Legal and Tax Considerations

When navigating through the probate process, recognising the importance of legal and tax considerations is paramount. Adherence to these aspects ensures compliance and facilitates a smoother probate journey.

Dealing with Inheritance Tax

Inheritance Tax (IHT) is a tax on the estate (the property, money, and possessions) of someone who’s deceased. It’s essential that executors understand when and how to file for Inheritance Tax, as this is often one of the first steps in the probate process. Currently, estates are taxed at 40% for any value over the £325,000 threshold, although conditions such as ‘Transferable Nil Rate Bands’ and ‘Residence Nil Rate Bands’ can affect this figure. Executors must ensure that any IHT due is paid or arrangements for payment are made before the grant of probate can be issued.

  • Pay IHT within six months after the person’s death
  • Submit the necessary IHT forms to HMRC
  • Keep accurate records for any potential audits

Understanding the Rules of Intestacy

If a person dies without a valid will, their estate is distributed according to the rules of intestacy. These rules detail a specific order of inheritance which prioritises spouses, civil partners, children, and other close relatives. Executors need to be aware that dealing with an intestate estate often requires additional steps, such as locating legal heirs, which can introduce delays. Understanding the exact lineage and distribution of assets under these rules can be complex, and legal advice might be necessary to prevent errors that could further delay the process.


The information provided is of a general nature. It is not a substitute for specific advice in your own circumstances. You are recommended to obtain specific professional advice from an appropriate professional before you take any action or refrain from action. Whilst we endeavour to use reasonable efforts to furnish accurate, complete, reliable, error free and up-to-date information, we do not warrant that it is such. We and our associates disclaim all warranties. The information can only provide an overview of the regulations in force at the date of publication, and no action should be taken without consulting the detailed legislation or seeking professional advice.

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