The term probate can often be used to describe the entire process of administering an estate, which in general is not a quick process. On average, estate administration can take 9-12 months. There is probably no such thing as “fast probate” but you can help speed up probate. The probate process can be broken down into 3 stages. During each stage there are different steps you can take to speed the whole process up.
Stage 1: Pre-probate administration and preparing the probate and inheritance tax applications.
The first stage involves gathering information about the estate to make an application for a grant of probate. This includes identifying and valuing all of the estate’s assets and liabilities, assessing the estate’s Inheritance tax liability, calculating how much is due (if applicable) and completing all of the relevant probate and IHT application forms.
The speed of this section of the administration is dependent on the size, complexity of assets, and how good of a record keep the deceased was. The more assets there and the more difficult they are to locate, and handle dictates the speed of probate during this section. However, a proactive, efficient, and capable executor can take actions to speed up probate as a whole during this stage.
How can I speed up probate in the pre-probate administration stage?
1) Understand your duties as an executor or personal representative.
The earlier you understand your duties and responsibilities as an executor the earlier you can decide how you want to undertake the administration. You can apply for probate yourself or by engaging a professional. An executor should consider how much time they have available, how complicated the estate is and how capable they feel in completing the administration. The quicker this decision is made the faster you can move onto the administration of the estate. However, it’s important to be sure you have made the right choice so don’t rush it. Changing your mind after the administration has begun can slow the whole process down.
2) Start probate as soon as possible
There is not a rule for how long you have to start probate. It is up to the executor to decide when they think it is appropriate to start the administration of the estate. Often executors will start looking into probate after the funeral has taken place. Other executors may start earlier, for example, as soon as they register the death and obtain a death certificate. The earlier you start the probate process the earlier you will finish.
If you decide to use a probate solicitor, make sure you return your terms and conditions as soon as you get them. Most solicitors will not start work until they have received them. If there is more than one executor or administrator make sure you communicate effectively prior to instructing, your chosen solicitor. Ensure that all the executors return their forms as soon as they can.
3) Obtain multiple Death Certificates.
You can’t start contacting institutions, freezing assets, and acquiring values until you have a death certificate. Each institution where the deceased held assets will want to see a death certificate as proof the deceased has passed away so that they can initiate their bereavement process. You will need to provide an official certified death certificate to every institution. If you have multiple death certificates you can contact multiple institutions at once rather than one after another. This will reduce the waiting time between handling assets.
4) Collect as much estate detail as possible in advance
Whilst you are waiting for the death certificate or deciding how you want to undertake probate, start collecting as much detail about the estate as possible. List all potential assets and liabilities and any reference numbers or account numbers that you have for them. Make sure building society and bank account numbers and sort codes are recorded accurately. You can speed up probate by doing this in advance. You will have a head start once you’ve decided how you’re going to proceed, and it can also prevent unnecessary pauses if information is missing or incorrect.
If you are using a solicitor, sometime taken here could save the solicitor hours and will not only help to speed up the process as a whole but can also help to reduce your probate fees.
Stage 2: Probate and Inheritance tax applications.
The second section of the administration process is submitting your application to the probate office to obtain a grant of probate. Unlike the rest of the administration process, where the executors/administrators can set the pace of how long probate will take, once your application has been submitted it is the probate registry that dictate how long it takes for probate to be granted. There are 3 factors that affect how long it takes for a grant of probate to be issued by the registry.
1) Whether the estate is liable for inheritance tax.
Taxable estates take longer to process because the estate accounts are reviewed in detail by HMRC to ensure they agree with your asset values and tax calculations. An application can be with HMRC for approximately 6-8 weeks (in 2019). This can take longer if they have a query about the information you’ve provided.
2) How busy the probate registry is.
Final duties use a panel of solicitors all over England and Wales who make applications for probate across the country to multiple registries. We regularly review how long it takes for probate to be granted on each case. In 2017/2018 the probate office was issuing grants within 2-4 weeks of application. However, the waiting time for a grant of probate to be issued has grown to 8-12 weeks (as of December 2019). This is due to an influx of applications after the announcement to the change the probate fees in April 2019.
You can follow up on your probate application if it is taking a particularly long time. You can check the status of your probate application by contacting the probate registry. However, bear in mind, frequent follow-ups are unlikely to affect how quickly your application will be processed.
3) Whether mistakes have been made on the applications
The only way to limit mistakes and speed up probate during this stage is by being thorough and careful during the pre-probate administration stage. Mistakes on your application will increase the time it takes for your application to be processed. There can sometimes be a lot of back and forth between the executor, probate office or HMRC in order to correct the mistakes. If you’re using a solicitor your application may be processed quicker. This is because their knowledge and expertise reduce the likelihood of making a mistake.
How can I speed up probate in the Probate and Inheritance tax applications stage?
Although there is little you can do to get the grant of probate issued quicker you can start preparing for the next stage. You can start preparing to collect assets and pay creditors by prewriting letters requesting the release of assets. If there is a property start the marketing and conveyancing process. As selling a property can also be quite a lengthy process you can start running it alongside probate.
Stage 3: Collection and Distribution
The last stage involves collecting all the assets, paying outstanding debts and liabilities and distributing the estate. Unfortunately, the speed of this step is heavily reliant on the institutions holding the deceased’s assets. It can take some institutions days to release assets, but it can take other weeks. If the sale of assets is necessary, it can take even longer. It is important to ensure that when dealing with an estate pre-grant letters are sent in a timely fashion and that the collection of an estates assets is efficient.
How can I speed up probate in the Collection and Distribution stage?
1) Obtain multiple grants of probate
Obtaining multiple grants of probate works the same way as obtaining multiple death certificates. You will need to provide either the original or a certified copy of the grant of probate to the institutions holding the deceased’s assets. To save time waiting for the grant to be returned by each institution you should obtain copies and send them to multiple institutions at once.
2) Have a collection plan
Come up with a plan in advance in what order you are going to collect the estate’s assets. The most efficient order will be different for every estate. You may want to start with the quickest assets to collect first so you can start paying liabilities straight away. Alternatively, you may want to start with the longest assets to collect first. An effective collection plan can help to speed up the process.
3) Keep clear records and accurate estate accounts
Inaccurate or unclear accounting could result in a timely, and possibly costly, mistake. If an incorrect settlement or distribution has been made it could bring the whole process to a halt. Having clear and transparent accounts can also prevent queries from residuary beneficiaries. Handling queries from beneficiaries of the estate can delay the completion of the estate administration.
How can I speed up a solicitor that is taking too long with probate?
1) Avoid Hourly rates
The best way to prevent a slow solicitor is to be pre-emptive. Avoid engaging a solicitor that works on an hourly rate. When the solicitor gets paid more for taking longer there is really no incentive for them to work quickly. You should look for a solicitor that works on a fixed rate fee. There are 2 benefits to this. 1) you know the cost of the administration from the start. 2) As the fees are fixed there is an incentive to work quickly and efficiently. The solicitor essentially loses money the longer they spend on the estate. The solicitor won’t get paid more and having an outstanding case could prevent them from taking on another.
2) Do your research
It’s difficult to speed up probate if you don’t have an understanding of why it’s taking so long. So do your research and get an understanding of what kind of timeline to expect. If research tells you a bank can take 10-15 working days to release funds, then you know not to expect your solicitor to have received them in 3. On the other hand, if it’s been 20 days then you know this is what’s causing the delay and can ask the right questions to find out why. In turn, you can then agree with your solicitor what they or you will do to speed things up. Having this understanding can help to reduce frustration throughout the process.
3) Follow the solicitor’s formal complaints procedure
If you’ve done your research and your certain your solicitor is consistently taking too long to complete tasks and your discussions/cooperation has been fruitless, the next step is to make a formal complaint using the solicitor’s complaints procedure. When you instruct a solicitor, they must provide you with details of their complaints procedure. A formal complaint can quite often prompt the solicitor to make a change. If it doesn’t keep following the complaints procedure until it has been completely exhausted. Only once it has been exhausted do have the right to go to the Legal Ombudsman.
If you are the executor of an estate give one of our team a call on 08007318722 for a fixed fee quote or contact us via our website.