Estate administration and probate can be a complex and time-consuming process but it dictates how long it takes to receive an inheritance. Executors and probate solicitors can spend an average of 9-12 months settling the estate. In the worst cases, it can take years to finalise an estate. For beneficiaries, this can be a confusing and frustrating period of waiting before receiving their inheritance. But why do beneficiaries have to wait for their inheritance?
Why Can’t An Estate Be Distributed Before Probate?
Probate is the legal process of obtaining legal authority to handle a deceased persons assets, in the form of a Grant of Probate. The requirement for probate is dependent on the type of assets the deceased has, how they were owned and their values. As it is the estate’s assets that require probate, not the total the estates worth, estates with low-value assets or assets in joint names may not require a grant of probate.
Assets of a high value in the deceased’s sole name, such as a property or large amounts of cash held with a bank or building society, will always require probate. The executor or personal representative will not be able to access these assets before obtaining a grant of probate. This is because one of the underlying principles of probate is to safeguard the deceased’s estate and prevent the wrong person accessing them. As the executor cannot access the assets they can’t be distributed before probate.
When Will I Receive My Inheritance?
A beneficiary should not expect to receive their inheritance until after probate has been completed. Beneficiaries, on average, will start receiving their inheritance 6-9 months after the deceased passed away. However, this can vary massively between estates and is dependent on what assets there are and the complexity of the estate. It can take longer for a beneficiary to receive their full inheritance if it includes a property, as they may need to wait for the property to be sold. A beneficiary may receive their inheritance in instalments. The first instalment could be the cash assets and then a second instalment could be the proceeds of the sale of the property.
How Long After Probate Until Funds Can Be Distributed in UK?
One of the most common questions asked is “how long after probate can funds be distributed in UK“. It can take around 3 – 6 months to distribute funds after probate has been granted. However, this can vary dramatically between estates. It is recommended to wait to start distribution to beneficiaries until the estate’s debts and liabilities have been settled. The amount of time it takes to do this will be different for every estate.
An ill-informed distribution made prior to this point may result in a beneficiary returning some or all their inheritance to the estate. This could be to cover unforeseen administrative costs, inheritance tax or debts and liabilities. A beneficiary that has to return their inheritance can hold an executor personally liable for failing to correctly assess the estate’s assets and liabilities resulting in the loss to their inheritance.
The executor should give themselves ample time to identify and assess all liabilities properly. They may wish to formally advertise for creditors by placing adverts in national local newspapers. A period of just over two months is allowed from the date of the advertisement for the submission of claims. After which a creditor loses the right to claim against the estate. This action protects the executor from personal liability.
If Probate Is Not Required, When Will I Receive My Inheritance?
Beneficiaries of an estate where a grant of probate is not necessary could start to receive their inheritance within a few months. Inheritances can be distributed more quickly because the estate does not need to go through the probate process, which can account for 3-6 months, sometimes more, of the administration time. The distribution time in these cases is dependent on how long it takes for the institutions where the deceased held assets to process the request for their release.
Banks and building societies can take on average 2 – 3 weeks to release the deceased’s money after receiving the request and proof of authority. Where the deceased held less than the institution’s probate threshold, their assets can be collected with the death certificate and the Will (if there is one).
What Assets Can Be Distributed Before Probate UK?
Not all types of assets are affected by probate. An executor can distribute assets before probate if they are personal possessions or smaller items, collectively known as chattels. This includes pieces of jewellery, mementoes, furniture and other tangible assets including personal items of a sentimental rather than intrinsic value. A beneficiary receiving a personal possession could receive their inheritance before probate, but this is up to the executor’s discretion.
In order to reduce their personal liability, an executor may choose to wait until the estate accounts have been completed and everything has been accounted for before distributing any assets. This protects the executor from claims that a beneficiary did not receive their inheritance. It also prevents contention between beneficiaries and executors where one beneficiary has received their inheritance, and another has not.
Can An Executor Distribute Money Before Probate?
An executor should avoid distributing any cash from the estate before they fully understand the estates total worth and the total value of liabilities. It is highly advised not to distribute any assets to beneficiaries until, at the very least, probate has been granted. As it is during the probate process that all of the assets in the estate are recorded, valued and any liabilities are assessed. Once probate has been completed an executor will have a comprehensive understanding of what assets are left to distribute.
It is up to the executor’s discretion as to whether they distribute any money before probate. However, an executor should consider how a beneficiary receiving their inheritance early could affect the rest of the estate administration. Distributing assets too early can cause inaccurate accounting and distribution, contention between beneficiaries and financial strain on the administrators.
An executor of an estate that is subject to inheritance tax should be even more cautious when considering a distribution of cash assets before probate is completed. It is during the probate process that the estate will settle any inheritance tax that it owes to HMRC. An executor must ensure there are enough assets available to pay any inheritance tax due. An early distribution could affect the executor’s ability to settle the estate’s taxes.
Can A House Be Sold Before Probate Is Granted?
An executor cannot sell a house before probate has been granted. This is because without a grant of probate they do not have the legal authority to complete the sale. Until legal authority has been granted, the only person that is entitled to sell the property is the owner on the deeds at the land registry.
It is possible to start selling a property before probate is granted by marketing it and even agreeing a sale. However, it is not possible to exchange and complete on a contract or re-register a property at the Land Registry in the name of a new owner without a grant of probate.
This applies to any change of ownership to a property. A deceased person’s property cannot be transferred without probate. HM land registry will require proof that the person requesting the transfer to the new owner has the legal authority to do so.
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