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How Long Does Probate Take And What Causes Delays?

Clients are often surprised at the length of time probate takes – anywhere from six to twelve months if everything is straightforward.  

This is why when you take out a life insurance policy, it is important to name the beneficiaries and put the policy into a trust.  Doing so will ensure the life insurance does not have to pass through probate.
Probate can take longer than six to twelve months if complications surround the Will, executors, beneficiaries, and/or administration of probate.  Below are some of the most common causes of delay and how to avoid them.

23 November 2020
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The Will cannot be found

Locating a Will is often the first cause of probate delay, especially if a person dies suddenly.  With any luck, the deceased would have kept all their personal documents in one place that can be easily located.  Or someone in the family will know the name of the Solicitor who drafted the Will and obtain a copy from them.  However, if you have exhausted a search of the deceased’s home, and their Solicitor or bank cannot locate a copy, then you or your Solicitor may need to engage a specialist company that carries out Will searches.  They can search through the records of Will writers and Solicitors throughout the UK, as well as the National Wills Registry.

If a Will cannot be located, the laws of intestacy will apply to the deceased’s estate.

How to avoid a missing Will

The best way to avoid not being able to locate a Will is for the testator to alert their loved ones to the existence of the document and where it is kept.  And although it is not compulsory, including your Will on the National Wills Registry will ensure your Will can be located.

Difficult or reluctant executors

The duties and responsibilities of an executor are significant and the person appointed may struggle to find the time or the inclination to fulfil them.  However, just because the executor is working slowly, does not mean they are failing to fulfil their duties.  An executor has 12 months to fulfil their duties before beneficiaries can use formal legal methods to chase for their inheritance.

How to avoid a difficult or reluctant executor

It is important to carefully choose an executor who will likely have the time and knowledge to fulfil their duties and responsibilities.  It is also vital to remember that if you choose an overseas-based executor, the probate process will take longer.

DIY probate applications

Applying for probate yourself is fraught with risks.  Due to lack of time and experience in dealing with probate matters, the process will usually take longer if you choose to do it yourself rather than engage a Solicitor.  District valuers may also demand more proof that you have valued the estate correctly and beneficiaries may apply pressure on you to speed up the process, which can lead to serious mistakes.

How to avoid DIY probate delays

Although you may initially save money by applying for probate yourself, you run the risk of having to pay more in Solicitor’s fees to correct mistakes.  Furthermore, if you are an executor of the Will and are applying for probate without legal advice, you could find yourself personally liable for discrepancies, especially concerning inheritance tax payments.

Lack of information 

Not having access to information such as bank accounts, insurance policies, stocks and shares, and details concerning any overseas property is one of the main reasons probate is delayed.  Being reliant on third parties to fill in the gaps regarding missing information takes considerable time and resource.

How to avoid information gaps causing probate delays

Be organised.  Keep all the details of your finances, properties, and insurances in one place.  Also, have a Lasting Power of Attorney drawn up so if you become mentally incapacitated, a trusted person has the authority to manage your affairs on your behalf.
As an aside, it is important to ensure your Will includes the disbursement of your digital assets such as websites, online bank accounts, and social media accounts.  As so much of our lives are now online, your digital assets are often as important and contain as much precious content (for example photographs) as your tangible goods.

Guillaumes LLP Solicitors is a full-service law firm based in Weybridge, Surrey.  We have a highly experienced private client team who can assist you with all Wills and probate matters.  To make an appointment, please call us on 01932 840 111.