Probate information and accessing funds

February 27, 2024

When you’re grieving the loss of a loved one, the last thing you need is to have to worry about money.

However, delays in obtaining probate are now so significant that many beneficiaries are having to wait 12 months or more to receive their inheritance. In addition, executors can be left out of pocket if they have self-funded estate expenses such as funeral arrangements, legal fees or even an Inheritance Tax liability.

This article explains some of the causes behind the recent probate delays, when you can expect to receive your probate grant, and what you can do in the meantime.

What is probate?

Technically, ‘probate’ refers to obtaining the legal authority to deal with the estate of a deceased person. However, it has also come to mean the whole process of dealing with the estate of someone who has died. This includes identifying and clearing all debts and distributing the assets in accordance with the Will or as per the Rules of Intestacy.

If you have been appointed as the Executor (or Personal Representative) of an estate, there are specific rules that set out how you notify the authorities and distribute the estate. For permission to manage this process, you’ll need to apply for a grant of probate, or grant of confirmation in Scotland.

There are separate rules if someone dies without a will, otherwise known as dying intestate.

Probate is usually needed in England or Wales when the person who died owned property or significant assets in their sole name. However, this can quickly become very complex and, in these circumstances, it is normally recommended to seek the advice of a professional firm

How long does it take for a probate grant to be issued?

Historically, probate grants were issued within six to eight weeks from the date of submission. However, according to recent research published in the Financial Times, this rose to 9.3 weeks in 2022 and then to 15.2 weeks in 2023.

Consequently, in November 2023, the House of Commons Justice Select Committee launched an inquiry into the HM Courts & Tribunal Service’s (HMCTS’) probate registry performance.

Responding to this inquiry in January 2024, STEP (the global professional body for estate practitioners) found that many families must wait more than 11 months for their money, noting a doubling in waiting time between April 2022 and April 2023.

What is causing the probate delays?

Several factors appear to have contributed to the recent probate delays.

A higher death rate in 2022/2023 inevitably led to an influx of applications. Twenty-seven thousand probate grants were issued in November 2023 – the most recorded in recent history and 14% more than in the same month of the previous year.

In addition, a STEP survey of members revealed that:

  • 61% believed there were too few senior staff members to review the applications
  • 82% said that increased government investment was required to upskill probate registrars to deal with the more complex probate applications.

What is being done to reduce wait times?

In January 2024, the UK government installed a new management team in the probate registry to try to address the issues relating to persistent probate delays.

It says it is confident that ultimately the average time for probate to be granted can be reduced to 12 weeks.

However, currently we are a long way from this and further delays are inevitable.

What are the consequences of probate delays?

The ultimate consequence in probate delays is that beneficiaries are left waiting to receive their inheritance and executors left out of pocket if they have funded estate expenses.

The executor is the person given the power to administer the estate. A beneficiary is the person who will inherit money (or other assets) as  stipulated in the will or via the Rules of Intestacy, once probate has been granted. In some cases, the executor may also be a beneficiary.

For executors, problems arise when they have to pay for funeral costs like a funeral, legal fees, or Inheritance Tax.

What can you do in the meantime?

Unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done to hurry along a probate application once it has been submitted. However, even pre-grant of probate, it may be possible to access the funds in the estate via a loan from Provira.

An Estate Advance enable Executors to access up to 60% of the net assets in the estate to pay for an estate expenses, including Inheritance Tax.

An Inheritance Advance enables Beneficiaries to access up to 60% of their future inheritance.

To find out more, please visit www.provira.com, call 0203 813 6400 or email [email protected].

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