The probate process can be challenging to understand at what can already be a difficult time. Understanding the probate process.
Our LEXCEL-accredited probate solicitors can help you. We’ve been doing the same for people across Flintshire for over a century.
“We were quite happy with the service you provided. With being local, we were able to visit whenever necessary, which we appreciate, and all phone calls were dealt with by yourselves in a friendly and helpful manner.”
But it can be useful to understand the process itself. Here is how our experts tend to suggest we proceed with probate:
What Are The Stages Of Probate?
There aren’t any fixed stages in the probate process. However, it makes sense to proceed in this sensible order as some tasks rest on the successful completion of those before:
1) Immediate Concerns
Of course, the dearly departed’s family and friends will be most concerned with funeral arrangements.
But from the point of view of the probate process, the most important immediate task is to officially register the death. There is a 5-day time limit on this.
You cannot begin to apply for probate without the death certificate. But once the certificate has been applied for, you can have the will read and start to claim on any life insurance policies.
2) Estate Valuation
To pay the right Inheritance Tax (if any), you need to know the value of the deceased’s estate. This will involve searching out all of the details of the following and having them valued if necessary:
- Bank accounts
- Shares and investments
Yet you need to know the size of the deceased’s debts and liabilities too. Once you know the details, you need to post official adverts in the paper of record (The Gazette) to give creditors a chance to claim.
3) Inheritance Tax
The main reason you need to know the value of the estate is so that you can ensure the correct amount of Inheritance Tax (IHT) is paid.
There are several different IHT forms that need to be understood and filled in correctly. Small estates do not need to pay tax. But for larger estates, the forms can become quite lengthy and complicated.
You then need to arrange to pay the correct tax. This is one of the few things for which banks and other financial institutions will allow executors to access the estate’s funds before probate.
4) Grant of Probate
Twenty days after you have sent the Inheritance Tax forms to HMRC you can contact the Probate Registry to request the Grant of Probate.
The Grant is a legal document that gives you (as an executor named in the will) the legal right to administer the estate.
If there is not a will with a named executor, you can apply for a similar right called a Grant of Letters of Administration (if you are one of a set list of close relatives).
5) Administer The Estate
The administration of the estate includes carrying out a long list of tasks in line with the wishes laid out in the will. This includes the need to:
- Centralise assets – special executor bank accounts exist to allow you to collect all of the estate’s assets and investments in one place.
- Check further tax requirements – it’s possible that Capital Gains Tax or Income Tax might be due if selling the estate’s assets raises more money than the assets were worth when the deceased passed away.
- Pay debts and liabilities – things like outstanding mortgages, utility bills, or debts owed to specific people or loans from organisations.
- Pay bequests – the beneficiaries named in the will receive their legacies or inheritance.
- Maintain the estate and its records – all the while, the executor needs to maintain good records of where they have collected the estate’s money from and what they are spending it on (e.g. cleaners for property) or where it is being distributed to.
How Long Does Probate Usually Take?
The probate process as a whole can take up to a year or even longer for the largest estates. But it can also be much quicker for smaller, simpler ones. As an approximate timeframe, we usually suggest:
- One month – to successfully apply for the Grant of Probate (or Letters of Administration if there is no will).
- Five months – for HMRC to process the Inheritance Tax and any other tax matters.
- Six to nine months – total probate time for a relatively average estate with a clearly written will.
- One to two years – for a complex estate. This kind of estate might have overseas investments, multiple properties, beneficiaries that are difficult to locate, and more.
What Happens When Probate Comes Through?
As soon as probate comes through, the executor named in the will has the legal right to administer the estate of the person who has died.
This is neither the start nor the end of the probate process though. A lot of work goes into getting the Grant and much more is required to fully administer most estates.
Do I Need A Solicitor To Handle The Probate Process?
As we’ve seen, the probate process can be complex. It’s also often the last thing you want to think about at what can be a difficult time.
For the simplest estates, it is possible to do it yourself. For everything else, it’s well worth at least talking to a solicitor.
E A Harris has been supporting local people in Shotton, Buckley, and wider Flintshire with all the legal expertise they need for over a hundred years.