More than a third of people expect to receive their inheritance within four to six months of a loved one passing away (37%), according to research conducted on behalf of Co-op Legal Services.*
It is a fanciful thought bu the reality is somewhat different, some exceptionally complicated probate cases can take as long as 8.5 years to complete, while less complex cases have been finalised within 60 days.
The average time it takes to finalise the administration and for inheritances to be paid out, can be longer, depending on a range of circumstances. Of those who had carried out probate for someone, the average time it took to complete the administration of the estate was almost 11 months.
In England and Wales, probate is the word often used to describe the legal, tax and financial processes involved in dealing with the property, money and possessions (called the assets) of a person who has died. Before the executor named in the Will or the next of kin can administer a deceased’s estate they may have to apply for a Grant of Probate. However, depending on the value of the estate and how assets are held, a Grant of Probate may not be required.
Co-op is urging people to understand that there are various factors that can make administering an estate more complicated, impacting on the time taken to complete the process, as more than one in 10 people (13%) believes that it takes less than three months to distribute an estate. Those in the North East think it takes the least amount of time to wind up an estate (six months on average), while Londoners are the most conservative, believing it takes around 12 months.
Factors impacting the complexity of a probate case can include:
- ownership of a business or agricultural assets
- complex disputes, e.g. where a will is contested
- cross-border estates, i.e. with assets in more than one jurisdiction
Currently, more than two in five people (45%) don’t have a Will.** This means the administration of the deceased’s estate would be governed by the law, under what is known as the Rules of Intestacy and an ‘Administrator’ will be appointed to carry out the role instead.
Speaking about the nation's blindspot for the distress that probate can bring Gavin Holt of Co-op Legal Services, explained: “Whether you’re an executor named in a Will, or the next of kin in the absence of a Will, dealing with the estate of a loved one can be difficult. It’s not something that comes around very often, and people often don’t know where to begin. There is a lot of paperwork involved, and navigating through everything can be stressful at what is already a difficult and emotional time. Whilst we have seen that the time taken to complete probate cases is decreasing over the years, we are committed to doing even more to simplify and speed up the process.
“Having to navigate through all the forms and paperwork can be tricky and it doesn’t help the grieving process. There isn’t a one option fits all approach when it comes to probate, so executors and relatives should consider if they feel able to take on the responsibility alone, or if they would feel more comfortable asking for help from a probate solicitor or other specialist in the field. As with all legal work, it’s very important to get probate right, and a lot of peace of mind can come from handing it over to an expert.”
Things to think about:
- Make a will to ensure your wishes are clear and legally binding. If you don’t, you risk disappointing those close to you or you could leave them in financial difficulty
- Talk to the executor of your will in advance, to ensure they have a clear idea of your wishes and to ensure they have a clear idea of your assets and where they can locate things like bank account details
- Make sure your financial and other important paperwork all in one place, and make sure your chosen executor knows where to find it. That will save the executor a lot of time when it comes to the initial information gathering that has to take place.
- Think about digital assets – individuals can leave details of online accounts they hold in a sealed letter alongside their will and addressed to their executors to ensure that their digital lives are not missed, or forgotten about, once they have passed away. Additional information may need to be stored outside the will, as passwords and user names should not be included in the document as this may be made public after the death.
- If you are an owner of a business think about agreeing and putting in place a legally binding business succession plan.
- If you have a particularly complex or high value estate, seek professional tax planning advice to ensure you have explored the options available to support your personal circumstances