What is Probate?
Probate is the process of making an application to gain the legal right to organise the property, money and other possessions of someone who has passed away. This is called applying for probate. If the deceased left a will, you will get a Grant of Probate but if this person died without leaving a will, Letters of Administration can be issued by the Probate Registry to the next of kin, authorising them to deal with the deceased's estate. However, the process is almost the same. In the UK, the process hugely relies on a variety of factors including whether the deceased had a will (and if there was an executor named within that will). If there is no will, then the next of kin will need to apply for a grant of letters of administration. The application can be made by your solicitor. As a result of these different circumstances, the probate procedure in the UK may take varying lengths of time.
When do you need probate and what is the process?
There are some situations that you may not need to make a probate application. For example, if the deceased had jointly owned land, property, shares or money, these will automatically pass to the surviving owners. By the right to survivorship, the production of the death certificate will automatically transfer the ownership to the surviving joint owner (this can be the spouse or a civil partner) so there is no requirement for probate. Additionally, if the deceased only had savings or premium bonds, the asset holders for each one need to be contacted (such as a bank or mortgage company) to find out if you will need probate to gain access to the deceased’s assets. The regulations for this will differ in each organisation.
Probate applications can be made by your Solicitor on your behalf. If in your situation probate is required, then it will initially start with the registration of the death of the individual. Once the death is registered, it will need to be established whether there is a will or not. If there is a will, an application for a grant of probate will need to be made. A grant of probate is a court issued document providing the executor’s (an executor is someone who is named in the will and responsible for sorting out the estate) entitlement to deal with the deceased’s estate. If the deceased did not leave a will, the administrator will take responsibility. An administrator is the person who is responsible dealing with the estate of the deceased if there is no will or if the named executors aren’t willing to act. Then, a valuation of the estate should be made. An inheritance tax form should be submitted to the HMRC to see whether the estate is liable to inheritance tax. Depending on the value of the estate inheritance tax may need to be paid. If you need to pay tax, you will usually need to pay some of the tax before getting the probate. The tax can be claimed back from the estate or the beneficiaries, if you pay it out of your own bank account. The probate application cannot start until a notice from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is received saying that you have either paid inheritance tax or have no tax to pay. These following steps can be administered on your behalf by a Solicitor.
What documents are necessary for a probate application and how long does it approximately take?
You will need to have inheritance tax forms and the executors or administrators will need to make a statement of truth. In these statements, the executors or administrators will need to confirm their rights in regards to administration of the estate of the deceased. The information that they have provided in their application for a Grant of Probate must be confirmed that it is true and that the estate will be distributed according to the law and the wishes of the will.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, HMCTS (HM Courts and Tribunals Service) has stated that due to the pressures of COVID-19 there may be delays in the granting of probate and therefore the process may take longer than the usual timescale. Under normal circumstances, the timescales can vary depending on the type of estate and the complexity of it. However, for a simple Grant of Probate application, it can take between 6 to 8 weeks. The grant itself will usually be issued by the Probate Registry within 2-4 weeks. Considering the current circumstances, this may take a while and delays of up to 12 to 16 weeks may be experienced.
To conclude, how long a Grant of Probate can take in the UK will depend on to how busy the Probate Registry/HMRC is at the time of application. This is particularly seen in the current period of time due to the pressures of covid-19.