How Long Does Probate Take in the UK?

How Long Does Probate Take in the UK?

Probate is a legal process that deals with the administration of someone’s estate after they die. It ensures their assets are distributed according to their will or, if there’s no will, following the UK’s intestacy rules.

But how long does probate take in the UK? This article will explain the probate process, factors affecting its timeframe, and what you can expect.

What is Probate?

Probate involves several steps:

  • Identifying the estate’s assets and liabilities: This includes property, bank accounts, investments, and debts.

  • Valuing the estate: An accurate valuation is needed to calculate any Inheritance Tax due.

  • Paying Inheritance Tax (if applicable): The UK government levies Inheritance Tax on estates exceeding a specific threshold.

  • Obtaining a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration: This legal document authorises the executor (appointed in the will) or administrator (if no will exists) to handle the estate’s affairs.

  • Distributing assets to beneficiaries: This follows the instructions in the will or intestacy rules.

Do I Need Probate if Everything is in Joint Names?

Assets held jointly with another person (usually a spouse or partner) generally pass automatically to the surviving joint owner. This avoids probate. However, there are exceptions:

  • Tenancy in Common: If you own an asset as tenants in common, your share becomes part of your estate and may require probate.

  • Complexities in joint ownership: Situations like unequal contributions to a jointly owned property might necessitate probate.

For clarity, consult a solicitor specialising in probate law.

How Long Does Probate Typically Take?

The probate timeframe in the UK varies depending on the estate’s complexity. Generally, it takes anywhere from 6 months to 1 year. However, it can be longer if:

  • The estate is complex: This includes a significant number of assets, foreign assets, or business ownership.

  • There’s no will: Intestacy rules add complexity, potentially extending the process.

  • Contesting the will: Disputes among beneficiaries can significantly delay probate.

  • Difficulties contacting beneficiaries: Locating beneficiaries can take time, especially if they reside overseas.

  • Tax complexities: Dealing with Inheritance Tax or other tax issues can add delays.

Currently, government processing times for probate applications can take up to 16 weeks.

Factors Affecting Probate Timescales

Here’s a closer look at factors impacting probate duration:

  • The size and complexity of the estate: A larger or more intricate estate naturally takes longer to administer.

  • Availability of necessary documents: Missing or complex documents like wills, property deeds, or investment records can cause delays.

  • Selling assets: If selling property or other assets is required, it adds to the timeframe depending on market conditions.

  • Dealing with creditors: Settling outstanding debts can take time, especially if creditors have complex claims.

  • Executor’s or administrator’s experience: An experienced executor or probate solicitor can navigate the process more efficiently.

Tips to Minimise Probate Delays

While you can’t entirely control the probate timeframe, here are some ways to potentially expedite it:

  • Keep detailed records: Maintain organized records of the deceased’s assets, liabilities, and insurance policies.

  • Prepare a clear and up-to-date will: A well-drafted will minimises ambiguity and disputes, streamlining probate.

  • Consider joint ownership carefully: Understand the implications of joint ownership on probate.

  • Choose an experienced executor or solicitor: Seek professional guidance to navigate the process effectively.

  • Communicate openly with beneficiaries: Keep beneficiaries informed about the process and potential delays.

Seeking Professional Help with Probate

Probate can be a complex and overwhelming process, especially for those unfamiliar with legal procedures. Here’s when seeking professional help from a solicitor specialising in probate law might be beneficial:

  • The estate is complex: If the deceased owned a significant number of assets, had foreign assets, or owned a business, a solicitor can ensure a smooth and efficient probate process.

  • There’s no will: Intestacy rules can be intricate. A solicitor can guide you through the legal complexities and ensure the estate is distributed correctly.

  • Contesting the will: Disputes among beneficiaries can be emotionally charged and legally challenging. A solicitor can provide experienced representation and protect your interests.

  • Tax complexities: Inheritance Tax or other tax issues can be intricate. A solicitor with expertise in probate and tax law can ensure you comply with all legal obligations.

The Costs of Probate

The cost of probate varies depending on the estate’s size and complexity. It typically involves several fees:

  • Court fees: The government charges fees for processing probate applications.

  • Solicitor’s fees: Solicitors charge for their time and expertise in handling the probate process. Fees can be fixed or hourly.

  • Inheritance Tax: If the estate exceeds the Inheritance Tax threshold, a tax liability may arise.

  • Other expenses: Additional costs may include probate advertisement, property valuation, and application for resealing (if dealing with foreign assets).

It’s wise to obtain quotes from several probate solicitors before making a decision. Some solicitors offer fixed-fee packages for probate, providing greater cost certainty.

Alternatives to Probate

While probate is the standard procedure for administering estates, there might be alternative options in specific situations:

  • Small estates: If the total value of the estate falls below a certain threshold (currently £5,000 in England and Wales), probate might not be necessary. However, seeking legal advice is recommended to confirm eligibility and navigate the process.

  • Joint ownership: As mentioned earlier, assets held jointly with right of survivorship typically pass automatically to the surviving owner, avoiding probate.

Frequently Asked Questions About Probate in the UK

  1. I’m the executor named in the will. What are my responsibilities?

As the executor, you’re responsible for several tasks, including:

  • Locating the will and obtaining a Grant of Probate.
  • Identifying and valuing the estate’s assets and liabilities.
  • Paying any outstanding debts and taxes.
  • Distributing assets to beneficiaries as per the will’s instructions.
  • Keeping beneficiaries informed throughout the process.

It’s advisable to seek legal guidance from a probate solicitor, especially if the estate is complex.

  1. What happens if there’s no will?

If the deceased died intestate (without a will), the UK’s intestacy rules dictate how the estate is distributed. This can lead to a longer and potentially more complex probate process compared to having a will.

  1. How can I challenge a will?

Beneficiaries who believe a will is invalid or unfair can contest it in court. However, legal challenges can be lengthy and expensive. Seeking legal advice is crucial before pursuing this course of action.

  1. What is Inheritance Tax, and how does it affect probate?

Inheritance Tax is a levy on the value of an estate exceeding a specific threshold. The executor is responsible for calculating and paying any Inheritance Tax due before distributing assets to beneficiaries. Failing to do so can result in penalties.

  1. How can I prepare for probate in advance?

Here are some steps you can take to prepare for probate in advance:

  • Draft a clear and up-to-date will.

  • Organize and maintain detailed records of your assets and liabilities.
  • Consider appointing an experienced executor in your will.
  • Discuss your estate plans with your loved ones to avoid future disputes.

By taking these proactive measures, you can minimise potential delays and ensure a smoother probate process for your beneficiaries.

  1. Can I avoid probate altogether?

There are limited ways to avoid probate entirely. However, some strategies can minimise the assets that go through probate:

  • Joint ownership with right of survivorship: Assets held jointly with another person typically pass automatically to the surviving owner, avoiding probate.

  • Life insurance in trust: If you name a trust as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy, the proceeds avoid probate and are distributed according to the terms you establish within the trust. This can be a valuable strategy to ensure a quicker and more streamlined transfer of funds to your beneficiaries. However, it’s important to consult with a solicitor, estate planner or financial advisor to determine if a trust is the right fit for your estate planning goals.


Probate can be a lengthy and sometimes stressful process, but understanding the factors affecting its duration, seeking professional help when necessary, and exploring potential alternatives can equip you to navigate this legal hurdle more effectively. Clear communication with beneficiaries, keeping organised records, and potentially taking proactive steps like preparing a clear will can significantly smoothen the probate process for everyone involved. Remember, probate is a significant legal step after losing a loved one. While it can be complex, understanding the process, potential challenges, and available options empowers you to navigate it more effectively. Ultimately, seeking professional guidance from a solicitor specialising in probate law can provide invaluable support and ensure a more efficient and stress-free probate experience.