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Grant of Probate: What Is It and How Long Does It Take?


Applying for a grant of probate is often the first step for an executor when they are administering a deceased person’s estate. However, the process has become increasingly frustrating in the last couple of years as the HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) struggles to clear a backlog of cases which has resulted in significant delays in the time it takes for grants of probate to be issued.

The Covid pandemic, combined with the rollout of a new case management system and a knock-on effect caused by delays with Inheritance Tax forms at HMRC, have all contributed to the extended timeframe, with applicants now waiting on average around 16 weeks before they receive their final grant. 

In this blog, Russell & Russell’s Wills and Probate team looks at the grant of probate process and considers what the delays might mean for you.

What is Probate?

People often incorrectly refer to ‘probate’ as the process of dealing with the affairs of someone who has died. The correct term for this is estate administration. The tasks involved in estate administration vary according to the specific assets and their value involved in each estate, but can generally include preparing Inheritance Tax forms, closing bank accounts, and selling property.

Probate is just one part of the estate administration process and is the legal right to deal with the administration of someone’s property, money, and possessions (their estate) when they die.

What is a Grant of Probate?

A grant of probate is a legal document that is required in England and Wales by the executors of a Will. It provides the authority to administer the deceased’s estate. 

An executor named in the deceased’s Will is responsible for applying for a grant of probate. Obtaining a grant of probate is the first step in estate administration and is often required by financial institutions to access bank accounts, sell assets, and settle the debts of someone who has died. 

Is a Grant of Probate always necessary?

If assets were held jointly, a grant of probate is not always needed as they will automatically pass to the surviving spouse or civil partner.

Certain other situations might mean a grant of probate is not required. These can include if an estate is solely made up of cash, if the estate to be administered is small (typically less than £5,000), or if the estate is insolvent.

Is Probate required when there is no Will?

Whether there is a Will or not has no bearing on whether probate is required. Probate is determined by the financial situation of the deceased rather than whether there is a Will or not.

When someone dies without a Will (intestate), the process of applying for probate is essentially the same, but the terminology is different. The person responsible for dealing with the affairs of the deceased is known as an administrator and, rather than applying for a grant of probate, they will need to apply for Letters of Administration. 

The role and responsibilities of an administrator are the same as that of an executor (after a grant of probate collectively known as ‘personal representatives’), and Letters of Administration has the same purpose as a grant of probate.

How long does a Grant of Probate usually take?

GOV.UK states that currently you will usually get the grant of probate or Letters of Administration within 16 weeks of submitting your application. However, many professionals are finding that the process can take considerably longer, and that paper applications are taking longer than applications made online.

Probate can be severely delayed if a grant of probate application is stopped by HMCTS. Applications can be stopped for many reasons, including:

  • Missing documentation, such as Power of Attorney or Inheritance Tax forms.
  • Missing information on Inheritance Tax.
  • Applications not including all of an estate’s executors.
  • A damaged Will, for example, Wills with staple or punch holes, torn edges, or water damage.

How much does Probate cost?

What you must pay for probate depends on the value of the estate. Currently, if the value of the estate is over £5,000, the application fee is £273.

If the estate is worth £5,000 or less, there is no fee.

If you need assistance in obtaining a grant of probate swiftly and issue-free, please contact Russell & Russell today for a quote and to discuss your situation in more detail. 

What is the impact of the delay?

The probate delays have had a considerable impact on personal representatives and have also caused a sizeable knock-on effect. Personal representatives are left frustrated at being unable to proceed with administering estates, resulting in mortgage offers expiring, house sales being held up and significant extra costs.

The backlog has also led to executors losing the opportunity to claim relief on share price falls for inheritance tax, adding pressure on ministers to extend the window from 12 months to 18 months or two years from the date of death.

What can you do to avoid delays in the Probate process?

You can do several things to minimise the potential for delays in the probate process. You should make a Will, which will enable your executors to make an online application. If you are an executor of a Will, you should also ensure that there are no errors in your application that will cause it to be stopped.

Russell & Russell has a dedicated team of Wills and Probate solicitors that has extensive experience helping with the administration of a wide variety of estates. If you are an executor and need advice on the probate process, please call 0800 103 2600 or request a call back.

Wills Solicitors Near Me

Russell & Russell has offices across the North West, three in Bolton and one in Atherton, Bury, Chester, Farnworth, Horwich and Middleton. Although we pride ourselves on being a regional firm, some of our departments service clients throughout England and Wales. 

Russell & Russell are accredited by the Law Society’s Wills and Inheritance Quality Scheme, which sets the benchmark for best practice and transparency in the provision of Wills and Estate Planning services. Specific experience of individual team members can be seen in the Wills and Probate team profiles.

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