The probate process can be a slow one, involving the winding up of all of someone’s affairs following their death. If they did not leave a Will, the time taken can sometimes be longer, as their estate may be less organised than someone who has planned for the future and there could be difficulties in identifying and locating beneficiaries.
When someone dies, their personal representative is tasked with finalising their estate. This can be a time-consuming task. It involves valuing all of the deceased’s assets, collecting the assets in, clearing and selling property, paying all bills, to include calculating and paying Inheritance Tax, preparing detailed estate accounts, finding the beneficiaries and distributing the proceeds of the estate to them.
Probate can take around 9-12 months, although this can vary widely depending on the complexity of an estate.
The large amount of time involved usually arises from the number of organisations that need to be notified, waiting for them to respond, providing the information and documentation they need to close accounts or sell shares and the time taken to clear and sell the deceased’s home.
What might slow the probate process down
If there is confusion about whether the deceased has left a Will, it may delay application to the Probate Registry as searches are made. Similarly, if the deceased left more than one Will, there could be difficulties in establishing whether another more up-to-date document exists that would supersede the others.
If a Will goes missing, then attempts will have to be made to try and find it. It could be that the deceased destroyed the Will, but it is important that searches are made to try and find whether this is the case.
If only a copy Will exists, it may be possible to use this, however the process is longer and more complicated than a straightforward probate application. Anyone who is adversely affected by the copy Will, for example, someone who has not been included in the Will but who might otherwise have stood to inherit would need to consent to the copy Will being proved.
What happens if someone dies without leaving a Will
If the deceased did not leave a Will, then their estate passes in accordance with the Rules of Intestacy. The Rules list who will inherit in a strict order.
For example, if the deceased left a spouse and children, then the first £270,000 of the net value of their estate along with all of their personal possessions passes to the spouse. The remainder is split, with the spouse receiving half and any children sharing the other half equally. There is a risk that loved ones may not receive what the deceased would have liked them to have. In the case of cohabiting partners and stepchildren, they will not inherit anything.
The advantages of leaving a Will
As well as ensuring that everyone is provided for after your death and minimising the risk of disputes arising between family members, by leaving a Will you have the opportunity to structure your estate in the most efficient way possible. There are ways to legitimately reduce Inheritance Tax liabilities and to ensure that your money is not used in the future in a way that you would not want, for example, by being left to someone else by your spouse or being used for their care home fees instead of passing to your children.