As an executor, you are likely to need a Grant of Probate to enable you to carry out the deceased’s wishes as was set out in their will. The grant is formal confirmation from the probate court that the executors are legally entitled to administer the estate. You must apply for the Grant of Probate before you can make headway with the estate administration and, officially, it should only take up to eight weeks for the grant (or Letters of Administration if there is no will) to be sent to you.
Unfortunately it is taking much longer, sometimes many months, for grants to be sent out for various reasons. Elliot Lewis, wills, trusts and estate planning solicitor with Thackray Williams, explains the factors currently holding up the process, and what needs to be done before an application for the grant can be obtained.
Probate court delays
In Spring 2019 there was a significant increase in the number of applications to the probate court ahead of an expected hike in probate fees, which did not actually materialise (the fee is still £215). Alongside this, a new online probate service is being introduced and is suffering from the usual technical hitches. Then, at the same time, there have been closures of district probate registries.
All this has contributed to a backlog of probate applications which means you can expect your application for a grant to take many weeks. This is causing potentially serious problems for some executors who have been experiencing delays in being able to sell property or to access estate assets.
Valuing the estate
While you can make a probate application yourself, it is nearly always best to have a specialist solicitor to do the work on your behalf as it is rarely straightforward. Apart from anything else, if there is an error in your application it will be sent back and the delay in receiving the grant will be even longer.
The application cannot be made until all the assets have been valued because you need to include an estate valuation in the application. Your solicitor will need details of all the assets in the estate, for instance, bank accounts, shares, land and property and valuable collections, so that the value of the assets can be estimated.
Remember to give details of any debts left by the deceased as these will be taken into account when calculating the value of the estate.
Inheritance tax must be paid
If inheritance tax is payable by the estate, a payment must be made to HM Revenue & Customs by the end of the sixth month after the date of death; and the grant will not be sent until any tax due has been paid.
How long will it take?
The quicker you can get all the relevant information to your solicitors, the speedier the application for the grant can be submitted to the probate court. Assuming there are no errors, a realistic timescale in which to receive the grant is between 12 and 16 weeks. If there are errors and the application has to be returned for amendments, it could be much longer.
You need to consider carefully the potential impact on the administration of the estate. If, for example, there is property to sell – you can expect a significant delay in being able to go ahead with the sale so potential buyers will need to be told.
It also means it could take a long time to access other assets such as money in investment accounts; and, of course, the beneficiaries could have a long wait before they receive their inheritance.
When the Grant of Probate is received
Once the grant is received, you and your solicitor can then get on and deal with the full administration of the estate and distribute the assets. It would be wise to tell the beneficiaries and anyone waiting to buy estate property or other assets that the grant has been received.