How long after a death should I begin probate?

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Our probate experts list all of the deadlines you should consider when applying for probate.

Probate can often be the last thing on our minds when we have lost someone close to us. Dealing with their affairs can understandably be a difficult time and many of us simply put it off. Some, however, find keeping busy cathartic and wish to get the probate process started immediately.

There is no definitive time when the probate process must begin after a death. However, there are deadlines for certain aspects of the process that must be met, and not carrying out the probate process at all can have some serious consequences. 

Here, we will talk you through what probate is and the pressing probate deadlines you will need to be aware of after a death.

 

What is probate?

Probate is the entire legal process for dealing with the estate of someone who has died. An estate relates to the money and property of the deceased. It involves organising the deceased’s money, their assets, their possessions and then distributing them as inheritance.

If the deceased left a will, they should have specified an executor or executors. These are people who are expected to “execute” the will. An executor has the responsibility to carry out the deceased’s wishes, as written down in their will.

Before an executor starts the probate process, they must apply for a Grant of Probate. This is a legal document that gives them the authority to deal with the deceased’s estate.

Once all taxes and debts have been paid, and everything has been distributed according to the deceased’s will, the probate process ends. You can read more about the process here.

 

The Executor’s Year

The Executor’s Year is the first time constraint you should be aware of. Every estate is different, and it can take months to administer, particularly if it is complex. For this reason, executors are not bound to distribute the estate of the deceased until after 12 months of the death.

This year allows executors and administrators time to gather all relevant information surrounding potential claims, debts, assets and cash.  In this year, an executor should:

  • Settle debts
  • Look for any additional beneficiaries/claimants
  • Pay any inheritance tax that is due
  • Safeguard the assets of the estate

This 12-month period gives the executor some breathing space to ensure everything is in order when the assets are eventually released.

Very often, beneficiaries of the will aren’t aware of The Executor’s Year, which leads them to pressure the executor to distribute the assets within the first 12 months. However, if assets are released before this 12-month period is up and there is a mistake (an additional beneficiary appears, for example), then the executor is directly liable for that mistake.

 

Inheritance tax deadlines

When a Grant of Probate is applied for, an Inheritance Tax Return form will need to be completed and submitted to HMRC. This will detail the value of the estate, all of the assets and liabilities, along with a calculation of how much inheritance tax is owed.

When there is inheritance tax to pay, a large portion of the tax will need to be paid at the end of a six-month period after the death. If, for example, the deceased dies on June 15th, the inheritance tax on their estate will be due December 31st. Interest will be charged on any tax that is not paid by the deadline.

HMRC also gives a deadline of 12 months after the death to complete and submit the Inheritance Tax Return.

 

Deed of variation deadlines

Occasionally, beneficiaries wish to change or redirect the distribution of a loved one’s estate. This can be completed with a deed of variation, subject to a number of conditions. Changes can be made only if all beneficiaries agree.

A deed of variation must be drawn up and signed within two years of the date of death.

 

How long does probate take?

“How long is a piece of string?” springs to mind when considering the overall time it takes to complete probate. Every estate and circumstance is different, so it is hard to put an exact figure on the time it takes probate to be completed.

Having said this, on average, it takes between nine and 12 months to obtain the Grant of Probate and complete the estate administration process in England and Wales.

In cases where the estate is small and uncomplicated, it can take much less time. Working with a specialised probate lawyer can also speed up the process.

 

Do I need probate?

A Grant of Probate isn’t always necessary. If the deceased had a small estate containing no property and a small sum of money, it is unlikely the process will be needed.

This is also the case if the deceased held their assets jointly with another person, like joint bank accounts. Those assets will be passed directly onto the surviving owner. This process is called the “Right of Survivorship”.

We would always advise getting in touch with a probate professional to determine whether probate is necessary or not.

 

How can Percy Hughes & Roberts help?

The process of probate can often seem daunting, especially when there has been a death of a family member or close friend. At Percy Hughes & Roberts Solicitors, we have a team of dedicated probate solicitors ready to help you resolve your probate query or issue as quickly and effectively as possible.

If you need assistance obtaining a grant of probate or letter of administration, or simply want advice on dealing with the Probate Registry, our wills and probate solicitors have a wealth of experience. They can help you through what can be a difficult time, dealing with the complex estates.

If you would like to contact one of our expert probate solicitors, you can do so by calling 0800 781 3894 or by completing the “Get in touch” form on this site.

If you have more questions around what being an executor of a will entails, our Ten Key Tasks for an Executor guide goes into more detail. 

 

Key probate timescales in short

The Executor’s Year – Time to gather all relevant information in regards to the estate. Do not release assets until 12 months after death.

Inheritance Tax to Pay – Needs to be paid by the sixth month after the date of death, otherwise interest is charged.

Inheritance Tax Form – Needs to be submitted within 12 months after death.

Deed of Variation – Needs to be completed within two years after death.