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How long will it take for Probate to come through?

20 November 2020
Jan Friend
Estate Planning / IHT, Probate

We have been providing probate services for almost four years now and during that time we have dealt with many executors, personal representatives and family members who have instructed us to deal with the process of obtaining the grant of probate on their behalf. The one question that each of them asks is how long will it take for the grant to come through.

So why is this such an important question? To answer that we need to consider the reason why grant of probate is required and what types of estates don’t actually need it at all.

Firstly, the reason that the grant of probate is required is simply to get access to the deceased’s assets so that they can be passed by the personal representatives of the estate to the beneficiaries.

Assets that Do Not Need a Grant of Probate

Whether or not a grant is required depends on what assets there are in the estate, how much they are worth and whose name they are held in.

Jointly Owned Assets

 The first class of assets that do not need to go through probate are any which are held jointly with one or more other people. Those assets automatically pass to the other owners and do not need to pass through the probate process.

Care needs to be taken where land and property are concerned because there are two different ways of holding those assets jointly: as joint tenants or tenants in common. Most property is owned as joint tenants, however there are occasions where the property will be owned as tenants in common, most likely because a solicitor or other professional adviser has suggested it as part of estate planning or to avoid care home fees. If you are not sure of the precise legal ownership of a jointly held property this can be determined by a review of the land registry document. If the property is held as tenants in common there will be the following restriction registered in Section B Proprietorship Register:

Restriction: No Disposition By A Sole Proprietor Or The Registered Estate (Except A Trust Corporation) Under Which Capital Money Arises Is To Be Registered Unless Authorised By An Agent Of The Court.

Assets Held in Trust

 Assets held in trust do not need to go through the probate process. That is true even if the deceased had a lifetime entitlement to the income or right of occupation, if the asset was property. It has been fairly common over recent years for people to put their own homes into a trust, but they have the right to continue to live there for the remainder of their lives. There are several companies promoting these products and one of the touted advantages of this arrangement is that the property does not then need to go through the probate process, which can save money for the beneficiaries and make the process of selling the property quicker.

Assets of Small Value

Some assets, although technically required to go through the probate process, such as shares, savings accounts and life insurance pay-outs, will be exempted because of their size. To make all our lives difficult there is no standard minimum amount across organisations. Each will have its own limits of when they require to see the grant of probate before transferring the asset to the beneficiaries and when they will pass the asset without seeing the grant. As a rule of thumb for shares the amount is normally £20,000 per holding and savings accounts will typically be £50,000. Amounts above these will need to go through the full probate process. For amounts below those limits there will usually be paperwork to complete and indemnities to sign.

Do note, however, that where a grant of probate is required for an estate, all of the assets mentioned above will need to be included on the inheritance tax forms.

How Long Does Probate Take to Be Granted?

 If you have considered the list of assets above and still need to go through the probate process you will of course be anxious to know how long the process might take. The reason you need the grant is to get hold of the assets, either for yourself if you are a beneficiary, or for the beneficiaries if you are acting as executor or personal representative on their behalf.

There are different steps to the process that need to be taken in order.

The First Step

The process starts with collating the information needed to complete the forms. This is done by you, so as much as you might not relish sifting through the mound of paperwork, the sooner you start the sooner it will be ready.

The Second Step

The next stage is completing the forms. You will either do these yourself or you might decide to appoint a professional firm like ourselves to complete the forms for you. Where we act in this capacity we will always aim to complete the forms as swiftly as possible. However we are usually dependent on third parties, such as banks and life insurance companies, to provide us with the figures we need to complete the forms. In general though we would aim to complete the forms within 4-6 weeks of being appointed.

Once the forms have been completed they will be submitted to the Probate Registry. This has historically been in paper form but more recently HMCTS have launched an online portal where applications can be made in digital form. In fact from November 2020 it is mandatory for professional firms to submit applications online. This has the advantage that it is easier to track the progress on cases and we would hope that it might speed up the process so that the grants will be issued more promptly. Before the pandemic an average turnaround time between submission and issue of the grant would be about six weeks. As the time of writing we are aware that the backlog of probate applications submitted but not yet issued stands at 29,000, which is an increase of 5,000 since the end of March 2020. We’ve heard anecdotally that the average wait time is between 10 and 12 weeks, which coincides with our own current experience.

The Final Step

Once probate has been granted the final step is to get hold of the assets and cash them in or distribute them directly to the beneficiaries. That will involve some form filling but should not take too long. Again it is dependent on third parties. Financial organisations are usually fairly prompt in cashing in assets once they have seen the grant of probate. However post Covid the world appears to have slowed down, so we are seeing a marked difference in response time – hopefully this will just be temporary. All in all I would expect the monies to role in within 2-3 weeks of the grant being sent off.

Usually the main asset in an estate will be the family home. Where this is to be sold the beneficiaries will often be keen to market the property before probate comes through. This is permitted where the deceased left a Will, but not where no Will existed. In any event you will not be able to complete the sale without obtaining probate and in most cases you will be unable to exchange contracts either.

Do bear in mind that these time frames are only indicative. If the estate is complex or there are unexpected delays then estates can take up to two years to finalise, even longer. Fortunately all the estates we have dealt with so far have been finalised much quicker than that!

If you would like any assistance with obtaining a grant of probate contact Jan Friend or see here for further information about how we could help with the probate process.

The content in this blog is correct as at 20/11/2020. See terms and conditions.

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