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"The Probate Wait"

View profile for Kathryn Loveland-Blockley
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"The Probate Wait"

With an increasing number of authoritative and well-respected organisations promoting a hugely underestimated wait time for the completion of the process of Probate, legal expert Kathryn Loveland-Blockley expresses her sympathy, and frustration, for unrealistic client expectation.

With technology bringing us instant messaging, 24/7 communication and shopping deliveries within a matter of hours, the notion of having to wait for anything seems positively archaic, but in many situations, especially when it comes to the law, it is crucially important to take the time needed to make sure things are done correctly.

I am an Associate in our Wills, Trusts and Estate Planning Department, which includes the management of estates and carrying out the wishes of an individual after they have passed away. Very often a grieving family are keen to sort everything out as quickly as possible in order know where they stand, draw a line under their loss and concentrate on the personal challenge of moving on without a loved one in their lives.

However, there is a process where Courts ensure that everything in the deceased’s Will is in order, and all taxes have been paid, before they grant authority to the Executors to start administering the estate. This scrutiny is crucial to protect the interests of all parties including their beneficiaries.

I recently had cause to be on the website of Citizen’s Advice when I noticed their answer to the question How long does it take to get probate or letters of administration?’

After correctly stating ‘The time it takes to get probate or letters of administration varies according to the circumstances,’ the answer went on to say ‘It may only take three to five weeks if there are no complications, inheritance tax is not payable, the estate is straightforward and all forms are filled in properly.’  

As my jaw hit the floor, I almost missed the closing sentence ‘However, in more complicated cases, it may take much longer’ as I am sure many people in search of the information would.

The probate registry themselves say the process usually takes up to 16 weeks from submitting the application, and that is if nothing is missing and no further information is required. It can also take longer if a paper application is needed (and, between you and me reader, I have never been able to identify a rhyme or reason as to the order we receive grants.)

I suddenly felt the urge to explore the internet for what other organisations had to say about expectations of how long after paying Inheritance Tax probate is granted, and found numerous and varied misinformation.

One example was the Co-op (which I personally love I must add) which said ‘Once the Inheritance Tax has been paid, HM Revenue & Customs will issue a receipt for this within 4 to 6 weeks’ and after that is sent to the Probate Registry along with the application for the grant of representation, if there are no issues, ‘the grant of representation will usually be issued 2 to 3 weeks later’

No wonder clients are, at best, surprised and, at worst, suspicious of my work ethic when I tell them the realistic timescales for the completion of Probate. I suppose the only thing I can, perhaps foolishly, ask is that people don’t research for themselves on the internet for a soundbite that is designed to attract attention, but instead listen to the person advising them on their particular case.

What I can say is that I am able to ensure the process is thorough and efficient. Due to the delays at the Probate Registry and understandably my clients’ frustrations, I ensure everything is in place as quickly and efficiently as possible so when the application is made, there are no unnecessary delays.