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Wills and Inheritance: How Long Should Probate Take?

James Watkins - Law on the Web

  1. 07 April 2015
  2. Wills and Probate
  3. 0 comments
Time Will

When a loved one passes away, the prospect of spending months dealing with their estate and carrying out probate is probably the last thing you want to think about. Unfortunately, this could be ahead of you if you are acting as executor or administrator for the estate.

There is no fixed amount of time for how long probate can take – typically it will take a few months, but in more complex and contentious cases, it can drag on for years. Here are a few examples of things that can affect how long probate will take.

Getting the Grant of Probate

You must obtain the Grant of Probate before you can begin executing the Will. Once you file the necessary paperwork with the Probate Registry, it will typically take another 3-5 weeks for the grant to be issued to you.

Common delays

Complex Wills and estates

How long probate takes will depend on how complex the testator’s (the person who has passed away) estate is – for example, if they didn’t have many assets or a lot of money when they died, executing the Will should be comparatively quite simple.

On the other hand, if they owned property and shares, getting control of all of these assets, getting their value assessed and making sure they go to the right people is going to take significantly longer. This also depends on whether the deceased kept good records of all of their assets.

Depending on how much the deceased’s estate is worth, you may need to pay inheritance tax. This needs to be paid within six months of the death, and before you can obtain the Grant of Probate. The estate will need to be valued to work out how much inheritance tax is due.

Who is set to benefit from the Will also affects how long it will take – a Will from which numerous different people or organisations are set to benefit will take longer and be more complicated than a Will which leaves everything to one person.

Contesting probate or a Will

If someone has an issue with the Will or an application for probate, they can enter a caveat – this stops the executor from obtaining the Grant of Probate, and gives the individual with the grievance a chance to discuss the matter with the executor and decide whether they want to take any further action.

A caveat lasts for six months, but it can be extended for another six months towards the end. However, if the issue is settled before this, a registrar can remove the caveat.

Difficulty finding a valid Will

If the deceased never told you about their Will or where they keep copies, it can be difficult to find it. You should search their house, particularly where they keep any important documents – if they do have a Will, they should have a copy of it somewhere, or at least a note of where they kept it.

They may also have kept copies elsewhere, with their solicitor, their bank, or at a dedicated storage facility. You could also contact the London Probate Department – if the deceased kept a copy of their Will with the Principal Probate Registry, you should be able to access it.


Errors can greatly delay probate – once discovered, they will need to be fixed, and this can take a lot of time, not to mention money. This is why you should get legal help with probate – mistakes are a lot more common in DIY probate when you don’t have a solicitor or legal adviser to guide you.

Giving up probate responsibilities

If you don’t want to deal with probate, you don’t have to, even if you have been named executor of the Will.

If you have already received the Grant of Probate, you will need to officially renounce it – you can do this with our Renunciation of Probate document.

Bear in mind that if you aren’t handling probate for the estate, someone else will need to – it could be another named executor, or if there are no executors, someone else can apply to administrate the estate.

If you don’t want to carry out probate but would prefer not to let someone else administrate the Will, you can get legal help.

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