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What is the probate process and how long does it take?

You must ensure that the wishes expressed in someone’s Will are carried out if you are named executor of their Will upon their death. A probate process is required to carry out this task. It is a new experience for most executors to go through the probate process, so here is a short guide to help you understand what is involved and how you can successfully perform your duties.

The guide below explains what the process involves and how long you might have to wait before you receive your inheritance, regardless of whether you are an executor or a beneficiary.

We will cover the following topics in this article:

  1. What is the probate process?
  2. What is the role of the executor of the will?
  3. What are the responsibilities of the executor?
  4. How do you obtain a grant of probate?
  5. When are inheritance taxes due?
  6. When do inheritance taxes become due?
  7. How are wills and probate proceedings contested?
  8. What is the timeframe for probate?
  9. What are the costs involved in probating a will?

What is the probate process?

In the broad sense, probate is the process of obtaining permission to execute the wishes of a will. In practice, the term is more commonly used to describe the entire process of administering an estate, from getting court permission to paying inheritance taxes and dividing assets.

What is the role of the executor of the will?

As part of the probate process, the executor is responsible for carrying out various steps. In most cases, the deceased named this person in their Will, and they may choose up to four people to share this responsibility. As long as the deceased didn’t name anyone as the executor, the next of kin will act as executor. Interestingly, this is why it’s so important to choose an executor (and to make a Will in the first place), since the next of kin isn’t always the best choice for this role.

It is possible to be appointed executor without being asked. Through the courts, you can renounce your responsibility if you don’t want the responsibility.

What are the responsibilities of the executor?

The executor’s job is to pay any outstanding debts from the estate and distribute assets to beneficiaries. Some of the tasks include:

  • Collecting all the estate’s assets
  • Estimating the value of the estate
  • You must calculate your debts, including mortgages, loans, and credit card balances, and repay them.
  • You must file inheritance tax forms and pay inheritance tax.
  • Taking care of funeral expenses
  • Distributing the estate’s assets
  • Drawing up accounts to demonstrate how the estate has been administered

Although much of this may sound daunting, you can hire a solicitor to handle the process on your behalf (and if you obtain permission from the beneficiaries, you may be able to pay them out of the estate).

How do you obtain a grant of probate?

If you are going to administer the Will as the executor, you usually need the court’s permission first. This process is known as requesting probate. The process is called applying for grants of letters of administration if a will hasn’t been left by the deceased.

In either case, you do not need to obtain a grant of probate:

  • There is a small and simple estate (typically less than £5,000 in bank accounts), or
  • The estate was held jointly, in which case it automatically passes to the surviving spouse

When are inheritance taxes due?

No matter whether you think there is no inheritance tax owed, you must file the inheritance tax return at the same time as you apply for a grant of probate. This is accomplished by submitting both forms at the same time. It can be helpful to seek advice at this stage to ensure that you pay the correct amount of inheritance tax and that you handle everything in the most tax-efficient manner.

Before the grant of probate can be issued, you must pay inheritance tax. A payment can be made up to six months after the end of the month in which the person died (for instance, if the person died on 14 June, the payment must be made until 31 December). When you don’t have enough money to pay the full amount, you can pay in installments or you may be able to take out a loan which you would pay back once the estate has been distributed.

When do inheritance taxes become due?

It typically takes between nine months and a year to settle everything in a probate case. If you’re an executor, here are the main steps you need to follow:

  1. The death must be registered – in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, you need to do this within five days, and in Scotland, you need to do it within eight days. This step involves getting a death certificate, which you’ll need to execute a will.
  2. Organizations and beneficiaries should be notified – notify the businesses the deceased dealt with, such as their bank, utility provider, insurance provider, etc., so that they can close the account and cease further billing. You should also notify the beneficiaries that they are entitled to a share of the estate as soon as possible.
  3. Fill out the grant of probate and inheritance tax forms –you can find these online and submit them (although certain documents, such as the Will, must be sent on paper). There’s a lot of information to include, so a checklist online can ensure you don’t forget anything. Probate should be granted within eight weeks, but it can take longer if there is anything missing or incorrect on the forms.
  1. inheritance tax – you may need to borrow money in order to cover this (since the bill will arrive before the estate’s assets are released), so you should make arrangements as soon as possible.
  2. Getting rid of debt – this includes credit card balances, mortgages, and other loans (for their car, furniture, etc.), but it does not include student loans. You may need to negotiate with the creditor to pay the debt if there isn’t enough money in the estate to cover the debt.
  3. Insurance claims – In the event, that the deceased had life insurance, mortgage insurance, or funeral insurance policy, contact the insurance company to obtain the payout. You may use this amount to pay inheritance taxes or to cover funeral expenses.
  4. Distribute the assets – the remaining assets should be distributed to beneficiaries according to the Will. When someone named in a will dies, their share usually goes back into the estate to be divided between the remainder of the beneficiaries, unless the will specifies otherwise.

How are wills and probate proceedings contested?

In cases where people believe the Will is invalid or that the probate has not been executed properly, they can contest it. They will need to file a caveat with the Probate Registry, which will prevent the probate from being issued until the dispute has been resolved. Caveats expire after six months, but they can be renewed.

What are the costs involved in probating a will?

Between the date of death and the date the estate is distributed, the probate process takes about a year on average. The probate process may take less time, but even simple estates usually take a minimum of six months. However, once Probate has been granted, it should only take about six weeks for the estate to be distributed.

Is there a cost associated with probate?

In case the estate exceeds $5,000, you will need to pay an application fee of £215. Inheritance tax (which should be reimbursed by the estate) and solicitor fees, if you decide to hire a professional to handle it all for you are the only other costs you need to take into account.

You can work with a financial adviser to manage some of the more challenging aspects of probate, such as inheritance tax, life insurance, trusts, and liquidating assets (such as investments) for distribution.

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