How Long Does it Take to Get a Grant of Probate?
Dealing with the death of a loved one can be a challenging time, particularly with all of the legal pitfalls that it presents. Below, we explain some of the legal aspects involved, and answer the question: how long does it take to get a grant of probate? We will also detail how to apply and provide information that will support you through this process.
Probate is one of the many things that you will have to manage when a family member or close friend passes away. The process can be quite lengthy and includes valuing the estate, collecting the assets, paying outstanding debts and tax liabilities.
Before you can legally touch any of the estate you will need to apply for a grant of probate. You will want to make sure that this process runs as smoothly as possible, especially during an already stressful time. This guide explains what a grant of probate is, why you need it, how long it takes to be granted, and uncovers any other potential pitfalls you may encounter.
What does a grant of probate do and why do you need it?
A grant of probate is a legal document produced by the probate registry which is a part of HM Courts & Tribunals (HMCTS). This document confirms that the named executors are authorised to legally administer the deceased’s estate, in accordance with their will.
If you are the executor, this document gives you the legal right to begin sorting your loved one’s belongings. Before you get this document, you cannot start administering the estate, meaning that you cannot move any money, property, or possessions.
In the majority of cases, you will need to obtain a grant of probate. However, you may not need a grant of probate if the deceased’s estate is worth less than £10,000, or if the deceased owned everything in their estate jointly with someone else. In this case, the ownership would be automatically transferred to the surviving owner(s).
How long does the grant of probate process take?
Every case is different, and the exact amount of time will depend on the size and complexity of the estate. In general, the whole probate process can take anywhere between six to twelve months.
Below is a general overview of how long it may take to both apply for a grant of probate and then get the application approved from the probate registry.
Applying for a grant of probate
- 4-12 weeks
Generally speaking, it should take between four weeks and three months to apply for a grant of probate. The amount of time it might take for you depends on a number of factors, including:
- Whether there is an inventory present within the will
- The size and intricacy of the estate
- How well you understand the estate
This time is dependent on the executors beginning their role and getting all the documentation ready. This may depend on how much time they can actually give to the process, or if they are still grieving and simply haven’t got round to it yet. The first step is to obtain date-of-death valuations for all the deceased’s assets, which can also take some time.
There are no time limits when applying for probate, but as an executor you need to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries. If you delay the process for too long, they will be within their rights to start questioning you.
There are also time limits and deadlines when it comes to Inheritance Tax (IHT). IHT must be paid by the end of the sixth month after the person’s death. If it is not paid by then, HMRC will start charging interest. Importantly, if there is IHT to pay, the probate registry will not issue the grant of probate until it has been paid.
Getting a probate application approved
- 8-12 weeks
Current Government guidance states that you will usually get a grant of probate within 8 weeks of sending in your original documents. They do state that it can take longer if you need to provide additional information, which is why it is important to get the first application correct.
Having said this, probate delays have made headline news in the past couple of years, with the pandemic affecting the probate registry and HMCTS in particular. A backlog of applications and various issues with staffing have caused certain applications to take anywhere up to 21 weeks to be granted. While this backlog is being remedied over time, it is still worth noting that your particular case could take a little longer.
After probate has been granted, the rest of the six to twelve months is for the executor(s) to realise the assets, prepare estate accounts and distribute the estate to the beneficiaries. Claims against the estate can still be made in the six months following the receipt of the grant of probate by anyone who believes they are entitled to benefit.
Does it take longer to get a grant of probate under certain circumstances?
The process of probate is generally the same regardless of whether there is a will or not. This means that the grant of probate is not necessarily faster if there is a will. If there is no will, the application made is for a Grant of Letters of Administration rather than a grant of probate.
Having said this, the presence of a will can make things much clearer for everyone involved. The deceased’s loved ones will know exactly who the executor(s) should be, and the executors will know exactly who the beneficiaries are and have a better understanding of the estate more generally.
To make things even more complicated, however, the presence of a will can sometimes delay the probate process. Relatives may not be able to find the original will, or a family member may have been excluded from it and wish to make a claim under the Inheritance Act, which can delay matters. The will may not have been properly drafted, which can create uncertainty around what the deceased would have wanted.
This demonstrates that every case is different in nature, and it comes down to how the individual’s estate and will were laid out.
What is the process if someone challenges the will or objects to a grant of probate?
There may be occasions where family members or close friends of the deceased challenge their will. If anyone were to contest a will and its contents they would need to enter a “caveat” with the probate registry. A caveat gives the person challenging the will six months to determine whether they have reasonable grounds to challenge it.
When a will is contested, the executor(s) usually takes a neutral approach, so they are not liable for any legal costs if there are problems with the way they have handled the estate. This means that administering the estate will be delayed while the parties involved in the dispute attempt to come to a resolution, or until the dispute is resolved by an Order of the Court.
The grounds on which someone is able to contest the validity of the will are:
- There was lack of testamentary capacity when it was signed
- It was signed under undue influence or coercion
- There was a lack of knowledge and approval
- Challenges under the Wills Act 1837
- The will was forged
When a caveat is entered, probate cannot be issued. This will mean there is a complete halt in the process. As previously mentioned, the caveat will normally last for six months, but this can be extended with an application to the probate registry.
Are there challenges involved in applying for a grant of probate that mean you need the help of a solicitor?
There is no legal obligation to use a solicitor when applying for a grant of probate. You are completely free to apply on your own, without the help of an expert. Having said this, the probate process involves a substantial amount of paperwork, and you will need to be adept at dealing with legal, tax and other administrative work. Getting any of this wrong can prove incredibly stressful and costly.
The biggest hurdle is often Inheritance Tax forms, which have to be completed for larger estates. Some estates require different, complex forms depending on their size and the assets within them.
The majority of people will not have a perfect understanding of the legal jargon within the complicated forms. The process can take a while even if everything is submitted correctly, so getting anything wrong on the first submission should be avoided if possible.
In addition to this, many people simply do not have the time required to properly handle the estate and the process of probate. The less free time you have to deal with the estate and everything attached to it, the longer it will take. Utilising the help of expert probate solicitors will not only ensure there are no mistakes throughout the process, but it will likely get the job done much faster.
What are the pitfalls of applying for a grant of probate online?
The digital probate system was launched in 2019 by HM Courts & Tribunals (HMCTS) and was intended to make things easier for people wishing to apply for probate online, without having to visit a probate registry office or a solicitor’s office. Since the system was launched, however, it has been plagued with problems and delays.
As previously mentioned, the pandemic has created a backlog of applications meaning that waiting times have reached an average of 8-12 weeks, with some waiting much longer. In addition to this, without the help of a probate solicitor, many members of the public are incorrectly reporting the Inheritance Tax liability of the deceased’s estate to HMRC. If the estate is distributed before the IHT is fully discharged, the executor would be personally liable, which could create serious financial problems for them.
However, if you do decide to use a probate solicitor, there is no guarantee that the application will be processed more quickly. Documents must still be sent via post, meaning they must be matched to online applications by the probate registry. This can also create administration delays. For many solicitors, this can be quite frustrating, as there appears to be no consistency in how quickly online applications are completed, even when the information provided is correct.
How can Percy Hughes & Roberts help?
At Percy Hughes & Roberts Solicitors, we have a team of dedicated probate solicitors who are ready to help you resolve your query or issue relating to this area of the law as quickly and effectively as possible.
If you need assistance with obtaining a grant of probate or letter of administration, or simply want advice on dealing with the probate registry, our wills, trusts, and probate solicitors have a wealth of experience. They can help you through what can be a difficult time, dealing with estate and trust property and complex estates.