When someone dies, their estate must be distributed to their heirs in accordance with their wishes as outlined in their Will. This is called probate – or ‘Proving the Will’ – and probate cannot begin until the Probate Registry has granted probate.

You don’t need to apply for probate, or even speak to the Probate Registry, if the assets have passed by the ‘Right of Survivorship’ to a surviving joint owner. If the estimated value of assets is below about £20,000, they are also likely to be free to distribute without probate.

Otherwise, probate can be a complex and time-consuming process to execute. In a time of grief, dealing with a loved one’s estate correctly will not necessarily be uppermost in an executor’s mind. Unfortunately, correct administration of a Will is a very important task, that can have repercussions through the years.

How long does probate take?

The complexity and the length of time it takes to administer probate on an estate is currently being further extended, as there have been steep staff cuts in the Probate Registry. This is despite the actual increase in the number of applications for probate every year.

Although probate used to be granted in a couple of weeks after application, due to cuts in the service it now typically takes about sixteen weeks, according to the probate registry website.

With more than half a million deaths in England and Wales every year, some say this is no time to cut staff at the Probate Registry.

After the Grant of Probate, the rest of the estate administration process takes up to a year to be done and dusted, but it can of course take longer.

Applying probate if there is a Will

If the deceased has made a Will, the named executor should apply for probate. They will normally have told the executor that they have been selected while they were still alive.

The usual steps for dealing with a death and distributing an estate are:

1 Register the death;
2 Tell the Government about the death (click to access the online form);
3 Arrange the funeral;
4 Estimate the value of the estate: obtain date of death values for all assets and liabilities held in the sole name of the deceased and in joint names with other people together with details of all gifts and chargeable transfers made within the 7 years prior to death;
5 Pay any inheritance tax due and wait 21 days;
6 Apply for probate;
7 Receive Grant of Probate;
8 Collect the assets;
9 Settle any liabilities;
10 Finalise inheritance tax, capital gains tax and income tax matters;
11 Once 6 months have passed since the date of the Grant of Probate, deal with the estate and distribute inheritances.

Some institutions will release funds if they are holding less that £5,000 on receipt of a small estate indemnity policy signed by the Executor.

The Executor must still make full enquiries into the extent of the estate and any gifts made within the 7 years prior to death and pay any inheritance tax due. They should also be aware of any Deeds of Variation that have been instigated.

Applying probate if there is no Will

If someone dies without a Will – also known as intestate – the most ‘entitled’ person can apply to execute their estate.

You still need to contact the Probate Registry to apply for letters of administration. The estate will be divided up according to the Rules of Intestacy.

The other steps are the same as if they had died with a valid Will, but instead of choosing who their estate benefits, it is divided according to those Rules of Intestacy.

Does the named executor have to administer probate?

Administering a Will is a responsible task, and there can be quite a few people to deal with as well as a lot of other people’s money.

Probate and Estate Administration have to be transacted in a dispassionate and non-confrontational way, and if the executor finds the job too daunting they can ask a probate solicitor to help.

As a 3rd party who has nothing to do with the estate or the family, asking a probate solicitor to help might be the help you need.

Contact our Wills and Probate team for further advice and a quote.

Visit our branches for more information: BraintreeBrightonChelmsfordCroydonHornchurchSolihull and Wickford.

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