Legal Guides

We use plain and simple English to give you an overview of the most common areas of law.

Timescales in Probate

When can I apply for Probate or Letters of Administration?

You can apply for Probate or Letters of Administration at any time – there is no cut-off point. Some people prefer to begin probate as soon as possible; others are not ready to begin dealing with a loved one’s estate for several months after the funeral.

When do I have to pay Inheritance Tax?

Any Inheritance Tax that may be due is usually paid within six months of the date of death of the deceased and before applying for Probate/Letters of Administration. It is sometimes possible to arrange with HMRC to pay the IHT in instalments. If any due IHT is not paid on time, then the executors or administrators will be liable for financial penalties from HMRC, and interest may be added to the overdue amount.

How long does it take to get Probate or Letters of Administration?

It usually takes around six to eight weeks to receive the documents back from the court, providing there is no caveat placed on the grant and the application is correctly completed. IF the deceased left a will, then the executors should apply for a Grant of Probate. If there is no will, then the next of kin should apply for Letters of Administration; they would then be known as administrators.

How long does a caveat last for?

A caveat can be lodged at the Probate Registry to prevent a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration being granted. Anyone who objects to a particular Probate or Letters of Administration application can lodge a caveat. The caveat lasts for six months, but it is possible to extend it innumerable times.

How long does it take to complete estate administration?

That depends on how complex the estate is.  A straightforward estate where there are just a few assets and a few beneficiaries will take less time than a complex estate with many assets, trust funds and lots of beneficiaries. A straightforward estate may take just six to nine months to fully complete, whereas a complex estate may take more than a year. In extreme cases, for example, where there is a dispute, the estate may take 2 years or more to be fully administered.

When can I distribute the estate to the beneficiaries?

Distributing the estate to the beneficiaries is one of the last acts an executor or administrator will do as part of the estate administration. You should wait until the statutory notices have expired – the minimum period for a statutory notice is two months and one day from the date of publication. You will also need to make sure that any debts have been paid in full from the estate and that any tax owed has been paid.  Once this is done, you can then begin to distribute the remainder of the estate in line with the will or rules of intestacy.  Remember to give all beneficiaries a R185 form (certification of Deduction of Income Tax). It is advisable to keep detailed records of who received what and when as well as all actions you have taken in case of any query or challenge later on.

When can someone make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975?

If someone wants to make a claim under this Act, then they have just six months from the date of the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration to make their claim. Then would then have a further four months to process the claim.

How long should I keep the paperwork for after the estate has been distributed?

You must keep all paperwork associated with the estate, including the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration for a minimum period of 12 years.

When should I seek legal help if I need advice or assistance?

If you encounter any problems, or if there is something you don’t understand, it is wise to seek legal advice as soon as possible. Remember, you may be able to recover any legal fees from the estate providing the legal fees relate to advice or assistance given in relation to dealing with estate. A delay in seeking legal advice could create additional problems later on.

This article was written and contributed by Ruth Langford, a Qualified Paralegal at Oratto who provide information, advice and fixed-fee probate quotes.

DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances. This is merely a general comment on the relevant topic. If specific advice is required in connection with any of the matters covered in this article, please speak to Oratto directly.

Published on 9th May 2018
(Last updated 7th May 2021)