Probate is the legal right to handle someone’s estate in the event of their passing. Without it, you will be unable to make any financial plans, put the property on the market or handle a person’s possessions.
Applying for probate has a reputation for being a lengthy process and includes a number of key stages including obtaining the grant of probate, paying out to beneficiaries and finalising the estate. While some aspects may be out of your control, potential delays can often be anticipated and planned for in advance.
Here, Beyond Legal explain the most common reasons for the delay and offers tips on how you can do your best to avoid them at an already stressful time.
Issues with the will
One of the most common delays in obtaining probate centres around the will. Perhaps you are certain a loved one left a will but you are unable to find it, or maybe you only have an unsigned copy. If you know that the will was professionally drafted, it’s worth noting that the original copy is likely to be stored at the solicitor’s office; however if you are unable to locate the original, whilst delays are inevitable, it is unlikely to be a detrimental problem in obtaining probate.
If the will has been located but is legally unclear or damaged, delays may occur as all parties try to come to an agreement on the interpretation of the will. Likewise, if it appears to have been modified or altered, or if it is stained, ripped or even stapled, the registry may pause the application unless there is a valid explanation from an executor of the will. If this is the case, send an explanation alongside the initial application to prevent further delay.
If the will end up being invalid or a will wasn’t made in the first place, intestacy rules will apply which take into account family history and circumstances, a process which naturally takes a little longer.
Liaising with beneficiaries
Communication between beneficiaries of a person’s estate is very rarely straightforward. You may be unable to locate a person, find that they are not cooperating or simply can’t provide the necessary details to proceed. A beneficiary may also decide to make a claim for greater inheritance if they feel they haven’t been provided for in the estate of a loved one.
If this is the case, the estate can’t be distributed and executors won’t be able to conclude probate. Similarly, the registry can’t proceed unless all executors are involved and are fully contactable throughout the whole process.
From the offset, it is therefore best to make sure that all beneficiaries and executors are fully understanding the process and their involvement. Executors can release themselves from the role if they wish to do so but this must be done before a probate application is submitted.
If you are struggling to communicate with an individual, or even locate them, it is best to contact a solicitor who can help negotiate or take the necessary steps to track them down so a resolution is found as quickly as possible.
The speed at which you go through the valuation process will depend on the types of assets involved. Dealing with high street banks in regard to current and savings accounts is normally quick and painless, but this can take longer if more complex investments are involved. Some assets such as occupational pensions and peer-to-peer lending may be paid out long after a person’s death which will prevent an estate from being finalised.
Physical assets including artwork, antiques and cryptocurrencies also require expert valuations. When seeking these, be extremely clear about what information is needed and get clarification from a solicitor if needed.
Finally, where assets are held overseas, delays are common. In part, this is due to communication and translation issues, but often other countries will have their own probate laws too. If this is the case, you may need to reapply for probate in the country concerned, or simply allow more time for the withdrawal of funds. It might be worth researching this first so you can be prepared if your loved one held assets abroad.
Missing information is one of the most common reasons that applications for probate are stopped, with Inheritance Tax and Power of Attorney documentation being two of the biggest culprits.
In this case, applying for probate too early can actually be counterproductive. It can take around 21 days for an Inheritance Tax form to be received and processed by the registry office and an application for probate cannot proceed without it therefore, whilst it can be tempting to rush on, sit tight to avoid delays further down the line.
Get help from Beyond Legal
While some delays cannot be avoided, getting advice before proceeding with a probate application can be beneficial in managing the process. Our team at Beyond Legal are well-versed in dealing with wills and probate and can provide support and guidance at an already sensitive time. Book a free consultation with Beyond Legal by calling our Newton Abbott office on 01626 333380 or our Tiverton branch on 01884 212400.