The probate period can take a long time to complete, and is difficult to understand – something you don’t need during the process of dealing with the estate of someone who’s passed away.
Put simply, probate involves proving that a will is valid (if there is one), confirming who has authority to administer the estate in question, and distributing the estate to its beneficiaries.
On average, probate takes six months in England, but can easily take longer to complete, sometimes up to 12 months and occasionally even beyond.
Exactly how long probate takes depends on the complexity of the estate in question. For instance, if there is property to sell, inheritance, income or capital gains tax affairs to solve, or complications regarding the beneficiaries of the estate, you can expect the process to take longer.
However, there is no time limit for you to begin the process and settling without a will should take the same amount of time.
In Wales, probate takes a similar length of time to complete, too.
But how long does each step of the probate process take? And what does it involve?
Grant of representation
Before the next kin or executor named in the will can claim, transfer, sell or distribute any of the deceased’s assets, they may have to apply for a grant of representation.
This is a legal document you need to access bank accounts, settle debts and sell assets, and your case manager will need a month to carry out a review of the estate so you can apply for a grant of representation.
If there is a will, you will need to apply for a grant of probate specifically, and if there isn’t one, you will need a grant of letters of administration. Functionally, they’re very similar.
They aren’t quick and easy to apply for, however, with the necessary tax and administration work usually taking between three to six months to complete.
That time frame includes the time to receive your grant, which usually takes three to four weeks to arrive.
Don’t place all your bets on that, though; last year, some solicitors were reporting the closure of smaller registries and issues caused by new software had caused three-month delays that have been going on as far back as 2019.
The pandemic has exacerbated the issue, with workers in home offices being left without the usual tools they would have to process grants, while others were furloughed.
And, with everything now done digitally, being scanned and emailed to the central probate registry office, delays are even worse – because the digital process only allows the easiest grants to be processed in a more streamlined fashion.
So, one month for your case manager to do a review so you can get your grant of representation and it’s by month six (at the earliest) that you will have received your grant.
After this, you can send your grant of representation to the bank, which will release money into the relevant accounts within 10 to 15 working days.
The London Gazette and a local newspaper will then place adverts with a two month notice period, which creditors of the estate can use to claim for any debts, reducing the risk of future claims months or years down the line.
After this, by around the ninth month of probate, it’s usually possible to distribute some of the estate to the beneficiaries.
By around the twelfth month, the rest of the estate should have been distributed. However, claims can still be made against the estate in the six months after the receipt of the grant of representation by anyone who believes they should benefit, so make sure all potential claims are resolved.
Can the probate period be shorter?
In a word: yes. Every estate is different, so the timescales we’ve given above are just estimates based on our experience with probate work.
Generally, the simpler and more scaled back the estate in question is, the quicker it will be to distribute it among beneficiaries.
This might be the case when, for instance, there is no property in the estate, or the property sells very quickly.
And, on the flip side, be aware that an estate can take over a year to distribute if it’s an especially complicated affair.
Talk to us about probate and we’ll work with you to give you a personalised probate timeline.