How long does probate take and what can cause delay?

Winding up the estate of a deceased person can take many months, particularly if it is less than straightforward.

Following someone’s death, it takes on average six to nine months to finalise their affairs and distribute funds to the beneficiaries. The process can be complicated and frequently takes longer than this if difficulties arise.

A personal representative, either an executor or administrator (if there is no Will), has the job of listing in all the deceased’s assets and valuing them. Once this has been done, they need to work out how much tax is owed.

This needs to be paid to HMRC, who will issue a receipt, allowing the executor to apply to the Probate Registry for Grant of Probate.

The Registry will go through the paperwork and issue the Grant allowing the executor to deal with the estate’s assets. This involves selling or transferring everything that the deceased owned.

Possible delays

HMRC can take a long time to agree the information in respect of tax liability. The personal representative will then need to arrange for payment. If this is not possible, they may be able to request that HMRC provide a form allowing them to apply for a Grant on Credit.

The relevant receipt then needs to be forwarded to the Probate Registry along with the application and supporting paperwork, including the Will itself.

If the Probate Registry has any doubts about the validity of the Will, for example if it does not appear to have been witnessed properly, it will delay granting probate until it is satisfied.

This may involve providing documentation from the witnesses and whoever drew up the Will.

Once the Grant has been issued, the executor needs to gather in the assets by writing to banks, building societies, insurance companies etc, sending a certified copy of the Grant of Probate and asking for accounts and policies to be closed and a cheque for monies due to be sent to them.

One of the most time consuming parts of winding up most estates is the house sale. The property will need to be cleared before the completion date, and a sale alone will usually take two or three months and frequently much longer.

The personal representative is responsible for locating all the beneficiaries, which can take time if the Will was made many years previously and people have dispersed.

If a Will contains any ambiguity or family members feel that they were due money which in fact has not been left to them, disputes may arise which will delay distribution of the estate funds, in serious cases for years.

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