The Reality Of Probate - How Long Does It Take?

By Vicki Coleman

There’s no point dressing it up, probate can take anywhere from six months to a year or more. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to treat probate as a marathon, not a sprint.

If you get lucky and the estate is fairly straightforward to manage, you might have it wrapped up in a matter of months. But if you run into complications, you could still be sharing out assets in a year’s time.

Ignore quick stories, as each estate is unique and requires its own resolution. Taking the time to do it right will bring peace of mind throughout the process and beyond.

While there are no shortcuts that you can take to expedite the probation process, the best advice we can give you to ensure it runs as smoothly as possible is to avoid making unnecessary mistakes.

It’s easier said than done when you haven’t been through it before, but others before you have made errors so you don’t have to. Here are some of the most common mistakes people make with probate:

1.       Failing to correctly interpret a will

A will is a legal document that outlines the wishes of a deceased person, but making sense of it can often leave you scratching your head. To meet statutory and common law requirements, wills contain technical legal language of the like that we don’t often come across.

This, combined with any potential mistakes in the drafting of the will and ambiguities in the deceased’s wishes, creates a challenging landscape for interpretation.

Any mistakes in interpreting a will can result in costly legal battles, especially if beneficiaries seek professional advice and file claims. These sorts of disputes might seem unlikely now, but people often get very passionate about what they believe to be rightfully theirs.

To minimise the risk of costs, time and liability, it is wise to seek clarification from a professional even if everything looks straightforward on the surface. You might just need a bit of advice in the reading of the will and then you can move forward with the rest of the probation process yourself.

2.       Incomplete assessment of the estate

If you’ve read our blog on ‘Everything You Need to Know about Probate’, you’ll be aware that one of the main parts of the process is totting-up the value of the assets and tracking down every liability and settling all the debts.

If there are significant debts, this can result in beneficiaries receiving less than expected. You’re not personally liable for those debts – money owed will come out of the estate.

After the assets have been distributed, creditors may pursue payment from the beneficiaries. It’s on you to ensure this doesn’t happen by carrying out a complete assessment of the estate to uncover all liabilities and settle up accordingly.

To protect against the risk of potential liabilities, you might want to consider obtaining professional indemnity insurance. This can help ensure the proper and secure wrap-up of the estate without fear of lingering liabilities.

3.       Distributing funds too early

Beneficiaries may not understand the reasons for delays in distributing assets and put pressure on you to start dishing out the available funds quickly. However, making premature distributions of assets can create complications and problems later down the line.

You have a legal obligation to keep accurate and up-to-date accounts and records of all receipts and payments, and distributing assets early may result in confusion among beneficiaries and extra work for you.

Whilst you obviously want to keep the beneficiaries happy, you’re under no obligation to do so. In fact, the old ‘you can’t please all of the people, all of the time’ quote is often very apt here – trying to please everyone can result in mistakes for which you may face personal liability.

Instead, try to maintain open communication as best as possible, keeping beneficiaries up to date on the process including any hiccups and delays that you encounter. Generally speaking, most people understand that these things take time – but that isn’t to say they won’t get impatient.

4.       Incorrect filing of probate and inheritance tax forms

The convenience of online Inheritance Tax reporting and do-it-yourself probate guides may make the probate process seem simpler, but it doesn't guarantee compliance with the legal requirements. Incorrect tax filings are a common mistake made by executors during the probate process, particularly with complex estates.

Aside from knowing which forms to file and how to fill them out, it is crucial to provide proper evidence for valuing the estate. The government generates a significant income from Inheritance Tax, so you can expect HMRC to closely scrutinise the figures. Getting it wrong can result in civil or even criminal liability.

The pressure from both beneficiaries and HMRC can lead to errors. Failing to apply for eligible estate exemptions can result in legal action from beneficiaries, while underpaying HMRC can result in more severe consequences.

It's important to take the necessary time to ensure accuracy and compliance. And reach for help as and when you need it – those online guides don’t always give you answers specific to the estate you’re administering.

Seeking professional help can save you money

People often try to go through the probate process alone in order to save money. But it can prove to be something of a false economy if you encounter any problems with the estate.

Shadowing every decision you make is the spectre of personal legal and financial liability — even if the errors are genuine mistakes. The potential cost of such action doesn’t bear thinking about.

Here at QuoteSearch, we work with a dedicated team of legal experts with regulatory control to give you even greater peace of mind that your probate case will be handled accurately, leaving you with no surprises after the case has closed.

Find out more about how we – alongside our legal partners Honey Legal – can make the probate process a positive one for you and your family.