Losing a loved one is a deeply emotional experience, and dealing with the legalities involved in settling their estate can add another layer of complexity.

If the deceased had significant assets, private life becomes a necessary step to handle the distribution of their belongings.

If someone with significant assets passes away, probate will likely be required to take care of the estate. Probate can be an exhaustive process - complicated and time-consuming to say the least. The question is: is there a time limit for probate?

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Is there a time limit for probate?  

The good news is that there is no legal time limit for probate - a relief for grieving loved ones still struggling to process their emotions.

The fact that there isn’t a time limit for probate enables an individual or group of individuals to begin the process as and when they feel ready.

Of course, if you feel you are able to start the process sooner, there are advantages to doing so.  

First and foremost, do your checks to make absolutely certain that probate is actually required. If they had no other assets and less than £20,000 in savings, probate may not be required at all. 

In the instance that they have £100,000 in a shared account with their spouse and also own a property together, probate also wouldn’t be required. These assets would automatically be passed onto the spouse. 

Probate time limit at a glance

Dealing with the loss of a loved one is a profoundly emotional experience. Adding the complications of handling their estate through probate can further complicate this difficult time.

Here is the everything you need to know about probate time limits at a glance:

No legal probate time limit:

Unlike some legal procedures, probate in the UK does not have a strict probate time limit. This allows individuals responsible for the estate (executors or administrators) to begin the process when they feel emotionally and practically ready.

Importance of timely action:

While there’s no legal pressure, starting probate sooner rather than later can offer several benefits, including:

  • Reduced stress & uncertainty: Initiating the process can alleviate anxieties associated with financial and legal matters related to the estate. 

  • Faster distribution of inheritance: Completing probate efficiently ensures beneficiaries receive their rightful share of the estate promptly.

  • Minimising disputes and delays: addressing probate matters swiftly can help prevent potential legal challenges and delays associated with outstanding debts or taxes.

  • Estate complexity: The size and complexity of the estate, including the number and type of assets (e.g. property, investments, debts) can significantly impact processing time.

  • Presence of a will: If a valid will exists, it outlines the deceased’s wishes and appoints executors to manage the estate. This can streamline the process compared to intestacy, which requires following legal rules for inheritance distribution.

  • Tax implications: Depending on the estate’s value and potential inheritance tax liabilities, additional time may be required for tax assessments and payments.

Starting probate quickly can reduce the emotional burden on the deceased’s family, as unresolved legal matters often carry a heavy emotional toll. Furthermore, early initiation of probate can secure the estate’s assets more quickly, preventing potential financial losses or disputes among beneficiaries. 

Is there a time limit to apply for probate?

Just like how there is no probate time limit in the UK, there is also no strict statutory deadline by which you must apply for probate after someone dies.

However, there are practical and tax-related time frames you should be aware of that indirectly affect when probate should be applied for:

Inheritance Tax (IHT) Considerations

IHT payment deadline:

Inheritance Tax (if the estate owes any) is generally due six months after the person's death.

Even though you might not need to have completed probate within this time, the tax due needs to be paid, which often necessitates starting the probate process promptly.

IHT forms submission:

The forms for Inheritance Tax need to be submitted before or alongside the probate application. For estates where IHT is due, you must submit the necessary forms (like IHT400) within 12 months of the death to avoid penalties.

This doesn’t mean probate must be applied for within this timeframe, but preparing and submitting these forms is a part of the probate process.

Practical time frames:

Distribution of the estate:

Beneficiaries may be eager to have the estate settled. While there's no legal deadline to complete probate, executors should carry out their duties within a reasonable period to avoid disputes or complaints from beneficiaries.

Executor’s year:

There is a traditional period known as the 'Executor’s Year', which suggests that executors are expected to settle the estate within 12 months from the date of death.

This isn’t a strict legal deadline, but it's considered a reasonable timeframe for completing probate and distributing the estate, barring complex issues.

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Is probate needed if there is a will?  

If the person who passed away left a valid will in their name, this will elect one or more executors who will be left with the responsibility of applying for probate. If a will hasn’t been made, ‘the rules of intestacy’ will decide whose responsibility it is to get probate. 

The existence of a will significantly impacts the probate process but doesn’t necessarily eliminate it entirely. Having a will generally streamlines the probate process by appointing executors and outlining asset distribution wishes.

However, probate may still be required even with a will, especially for estates exceeding the inheritance tax threshold or involving complicated situations. In the absence of a will, probate becomes almost inevitable due to the need to determine beneficiaries and manage the estate according to intestacy rules.

What is the probate time limit process with a will?

1. Executors appointed:

The will nominates one or more individuals (executors) to handle the estate’s administration, including applying for probate.

2. Streamlined process:

A valid will outlines the deceased’s wishes regarding asset distribution, potentially simplifying the probate process compared to intestacy (no will).

3. Probate still required:

Even with a will, probate might still be necessary to:

  • Obtain legal authority: Grant probate officially empowers the executors to manage the estate’s assets, such as selling property or transferring bank accounts.

  • Pay taxes: If the estate value exceeds the inheritance tax threshold, probate facilitates settling any outstanding tax liabilities.

  • Resolve complexities: In situations involving complicated assets, disputes among beneficiaries, or unclear will instructions, probate may be necessary to navigate legal complications and ensure property distribution.

What is the probate time limit process without a will?

1. The rules of Intestacy apply:

When no will exists, the law dictates how the estate is distributed through a set of predetermined rules known as intestacy.

2. Probate often required:

In most cases of intestacy, probate becomes necessary to determine the right beneficiaries and obtain legal authorisation to manage the estate according to the intestacy rules. This can be a more complex and time-consuming process compared to having a clear will.

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Why you should carry out probate quickly  

There are no hard and fast rules as to how quickly you carry out probate. However, we would always advise beginning the process sooner rather than later.  

Kickstarting the process in a timely manner is advantageous as it will help alleviate any uncertainty and stress you may be feeling. Although the process can feel long winded and complex, help is available to ensure you feel fully supported and those finding things particularly challenging can entrust someone else to take care of certain, particularly complicated parts of the process. 

Although the likes of inheritance is still probably the last thing on your mind, it’s important to consider beneficiaries. Beginning the probate process can help ensure that beneficiaries attain their inheritance sooner. Efficient probate can also prevent legal disputes against the will, as well as helping to clear any debts or taxes still left outstanding.

If there’s a possibility of disputes regarding the will’s validity or interpretation, addressing probate matters swiftly can help expedite resolution and minimise legal costs associated with prolonged litigation. 

Executors have a legal obligation to handle the estate efficiently and daily. Delaying probate can expose them to potential accusations of negligence or mismanagement. 

What are the benefits of carrying out probate quickly?

Delaying probate can lead to occurring interest on debts and potential penalties for late tax payments. Addressing these matters promptly minimises financial repercussions for the estate, so acting fast with probate can reduce the financial burden.

Completing probate sooner provides closure and certainty for beneficiaries regarding their inheritance, potentially alleviating anxieties and fostering better communication within families.

Delays can expose assets like property to market fluctuations or deterioration, which will impact their value, so acting quickly will help minimise the risk of asset depreciation. There are no strict deadlines for probate, but initiating the process sooner rather than later offers several advantages:

  • Reduced stress and uncertainty: Addressing financial and legal matters promptly can alleviate anxieties for beneficiaries and executors.

  • Faster distribution of inheritance: Completing probate efficiently ensures beneficiaries receive their rightful share of the estate quicker.

  • Minimised financial burdens: Timely action helps avoid accruing interest on debts and potential tax penalties.

  • Reduced risk of disputes: Addressing probate matters swiftly can minimise the chances of legal challenges arising from delays.

  • Preservation of asset value: Promptly handling probate matters helps protect assets from potential depreciation associated with market fluctuations or neglect.

  • Fulfilment of executor's duties: Initiating probate promptly demonstrates responsible management of the estate by the executor.

By understanding these benefits and potential consequences of delay, individuals involved in the probate process can make informed decisions regarding the appropriate timeline for their specific situation.

When must inheritance tax be paid?

While probate itself doesn't have a strict time frame, Inheritance Tax (IHT) imposes deadlines you need to be aware of. Inheritance Tax must be paid within 6 months of the date of death. Missing this deadline can result in penalties and interest charges.

If there is no inheritance tax to pay, the Inheritance Tax Return Form IHT205 will be used. There is no deadline in which to submit this form. However, if the long inheritance Tax Return Form IHT400 is used, this must be submitted within 12 months of the death. 

In order to determine the amount of Inheritance Tax owed can be complex, involving factors like the estate’s total value, exemptions and applicable rates. 

Probate can be granted without full Inheritance Tax payment in certain situations. However, obtaining probate may be complicated or delayed if significant Inheritance Tax liabilities remain outstanding. 

Calculating the Inheritance Tax amount requires a comprehensive assessment of the estate’s value, including property, personal possessions, savings, investments and other assets. 

Estates valued below the £325,000 threshold are usually exempt from Inheritance Tax, allowing more flexibility with the probate timeline.

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How long does probate take?  

As a general rule of thumb, probate takes between 9-12 months to settle an estate. 

However, it can take longer. If, for example, there is a property to sell, a complex inheritance or there are complexities surrounding the beneficiaries of the estate, the process may take a while longer. Here are some other factors which may impact probate length:

  • Tax complexities: If the estate involves significant assets or international holdings, navigating tax implications can add time.

  • Missing beneficiaries: Locating and verifying beneficiaries, especially those residing abroad, can be time-consuming.

  • Disputes among beneficiaries: Contested wills or disagreements regarding asset distribution can lead to lengthy legal proceedings.

  • Administrative hurdles: Dealing with delays from government agencies or financial institutions can extend the timeline.

Can probate be done quickly?

Let’s be honest, dealing with probate after losing a loved one is rarely a quick and easy process. Unlike many legal procedures, there’s no strict deadline for probate in the UK. THis might sound promising at first, but it also means the journey can feel like navigating a maze, with twists and turns unique to each situation.

So, the question remains: can probate be done quickly? The answer, unfortunately, isn’t a simple yes or no. While achieving a lightning-fast resolution is rare, there are ways to optimise the process and potentially shave off some valuable time.

Here’s the key: seek expert legal support. Imagine having a skilled guide by your side, someone who understands the legal twists and turns and can help you navigate them efficiently. 

An experienced probate solicitor can be your saving grace, streamlining the process and addressing any potential disputes among beneficiaries before they snowball into delays. 

But, it doesn’t stop there. Being proactive is vital. Think of it like gathering supplies before starting on an adventure. Having all the necessary documents and information readily available can save precious time. 

Additionally, keeping open communication with everyone involved, from solicitors and beneficiaries to government agencies, ensures everyone is on the same page and potential roadblocks can be addressed swiftly.

Remember, while striving for a speedy resolution is understandable, it’s important to manage expectations realistically. External factors like government processing times can introduce delays beyond anyone’s control. Accepting this and planning accordingly can help you navigate these hurdles with more ease.

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On what grounds can a will be contested?

A will can be contested on various grounds including lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence or coercion, lack of valid execution, fraud, lack of knowledge and approval, and a claim under the Inheritance Act 1975:

  • Lack of testamentary capacity: The deceased did not understand the nature of making the will or the extent of the property of which they were disposing.

  • Undue influence or coercion: The will was made under pressure or duress from another person.

  • Lack of valid execution: The will did not meet the legal requirements (e.g., it was not properly signed or witnessed).

  • Fraud or forgery: The will is a forgery, or the testator was tricked into signing it.

  • Lack of knowledge and approval: The testator did not understand and approve the contents of the will.

  • A claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975: A person who was financially dependent on the deceased claims that the will does not make reasonable financial provision for them.

What happens if the will is contested?

If the will is contested then you will need to seek legal advice immediately. Due to the complexities involved, it’s vital you find a solicitor specialised in contested wills and probate law. They can assess the merits of the case and advise on the likelihood of success.

If there are concerns about the will’s validity, a Caveat can be entered at the Probate Registry. This prevents the grant of probate or letters of administration being issued, effectively pausing the administration of the estate until the dispute is resolved. 

The person contesting the will must gather evidence to support their claim. This might include medical records, witness statements and documents related to the will’s creation.

Often, disputes are resolved through mediation or negotiation, avoiding the need for a court trial. This can be a less adversarial and costly way to reach a settlement.

If the dispute cannot be resolved through negotiation, it may proceed to court. The court will examine the evidence and decide whether the will is valid or if any adjustments to the distribution of the estate are necessary.

Will a contested will mean probate takes longer?

A contested will invariably introduces complexities that can extend the probate process, potentially prolonging it by a considerable duration, sometimes stretching into years. 

This delay arises from the need to meticulously navigate through the legal intricacies and disputes that challenge the will’s validity, requiring a thorough examination of evidence, legal arguments and in many cases, negotiations or court proceedings. 

Such contests not only demand extensive legal scrutiny but also often involve a detailed exploration of the testator’s intentions and the circumstances surrounding the will’s creation, contributing to the extended timeframe for reaching a resolution.

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Is probate quicker with a solicitor?

Having a solicitor who is trained in probate law can shave off valuable time but providing you with expertise, armed with in-depth knowledge of probate law and the latest regulations. This translates to navigating the legal hurdles swiftly and smoothly, something someone without legal training might struggle with.

Experience is key, as an experienced solicitor will have seen probate cases of all varying levels of complexity. This means they can anticipate potential roadblocks and address them before they cause delays.

The probate process involves a lot of intricate paperwork and strict deadlines. Solicitors are experts at handling these requirements accurately, minimising the risk of errors that could lead to frustrating delays caused by corrections or omissions. 

Disagreements among beneficiaries can throw a wrench into the probate timeline. But fear not, solicitors can offer valuable guidance in resolving these conflicts, preventing them from derailing the entire process.

When selecting a solicitor of probate matters, look for a solicitor firm that has specialised experience in estate administration and probate. Ask about their experience with estates similar in size and complexity to your own, and inquire about their approach to handling potential disputes among beneficiaries. 

Can probate be done without a solicitor?

Yes, probate can be done without a solicitor but whether you should take this route will ultimately depend on the complexity of the estate, your confidence in dealing with legal and financial matters and whether there are any contentious issues among the beneficiaries. 

If the deceased’s financial and property affairs are straightforward, without any property to transfer or sell, and there are clear, uncontested wills, managing probate without a solicitor is more feasible. 

Estates that do not exceed the inheritance tax threshold are simpler to administer. Finally, if all the beneficiaries are in agreement about the distribution of the estate and there are no disputes, it reduces the complexity and the need for legal advice. 

Can cash buyers help speed up the probate process?

While a cash house buyer can’t directly influence the legal complications and timelines of probate, they can offer several advantages that can contribute to a faster overall process.

Traditional property sales through estate agents can take months, depending on market conditions and finding the right buyer. Cash house buyers however can complete the purchase much quicker, often within a few weeks, eliminating the waiting period associated with finding a traditional buyer.

Cash house buyers usually have simpler and faster completion procedures compared to estate agents who rely on mortgage financing buyers. This eliminates the potential delays associated with loan approvals and house valuations, which can add weeks or even months to the traditional selling process.

As a cash buyer ourselves, we can offer flexible completion dates that can be tailored to the needs of the executor and beneficiaries. This allows for more control over the timeline and can potentially expedite the sale if a quick resolution is desired.

By selling the property quickly through a cash buyer like us can alleviate stress and uncertainty for the executor and beneficiaries, especially during an already emotionally challenging time.

Knowing the property is sold and the funds are secured can provide peace of mind and allow them to focus on other aspects of settling the estate. 

Are you or someone you know looking to sell your home? As leading cash home buyers with an excellent rating, we offer an efficient property sale experience and to help make the process as easy as possible, we handle everything from start to completion - including funding solicitor costs. 

What’s more, we offer the flexibility to choose a completion date within a minimum of 7 days, absolutely free of charge and entirely hassle-free. For more information, just give us a call on 0800 024 8444.

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Tom Condon

Tom Condon, one of our content writers, has fascinating expertise in sustainability in the property industry. Tom thoroughly understands the market and has experience in both residential and commercial property. He enjoys attending conferences and staying current with the most recent property trends.