If you’re due to receive an inheritance from a loved one, you might expect to receive the sum you were promised soon after the Will has been read. Unfortunately, the process is not as simple as that.

Before any payments can be made to beneficiaries (the legal term for those who have been left something in a Will), the person in charge of administering the Will has to wind up the estate, pay any outstanding debts, ensure any tax liabilities have been met and apply for a Grant of Probate.

This is also the case in situations where the person who has died has not left a valid Will. Whoever is responsible for administering the estate will still need to take all of these steps and apply for a Grant of Representation before the remainder of the estate can be passed on to those who are entitled to inherit it.

There is no set timetable for probate and it’s not always possible to predict how long it might take in a particular case. Sometimes the whole process can be completed within a couple of months. Sometimes beneficiaries will need to wait a year or more before they receive their inheritance.

It’s important to understand that some estates are more difficult to wind up than others. There are many reasons why this can be the case. We’ve covered some of the most common issues below.

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When there is property that needs to be sold

Often, a family home and/or investment properties need to be sold before an estate can be fully assessed and inheritance tax can be paid. Selling property is a lengthy process, especially if it takes time to find a buyer.

When the estate takes a long time to assess and value

Simple estates can usually be assessed reasonably quickly. However, this stage can take much longer in cases where the finances of an estate are more extensive or complicated. Assessing and valuing an estate can also take longer when the estate includes specialist collections such as art or antiques.

When there are foreign assets

Things can become more complicated if an estate includes property or bank accounts located overseas. In these cases, there are likely to be rules and regulations that need to be followed in the country the assets are held in before they can be sold or transferred to the UK.

When there is a disagreement

There are all sorts of reasons for disagreements to erupt during probate. This could be because someone doesn’t think the Will is valid, because someone feels they have been unfairly left out of the Will, or because someone doesn’t believe the executor or administrator is doing a good job. These sorts of disputes can sometimes require legal intervention, which can add months, or even years, to the process.

When there is money to collect in

In addition to paying any outstanding debts, the person administering the estate will also need to call in any debts that were owed to the person who has died. This can take time, especially if there is any ambiguity over how many loans were made or what the terms were.

When there are complications with inheritance tax

In cases where there is inheritance tax to pay, difficult decisions might need to be made about what assets are to be sold in order to pay it. These sorts of decisions can take time to make and follow through on. The person administering the estate may decide to set up a plan to pay in instalments, but this can take time to arrange.

What should you do while you’re waiting?

It can be frustrating when you have to wait a long time to receive something you’re due from an estate. This is especially the case if you’re hoping to do something specific with the money.

Though it may be tempting to enter into formal agreements such as car purchases or renovation plans on the basis of the money you expect to receive, our advice is to hold off until you have actually received it.

Probate can be a long and frustrating process. It can also be unpredictable. The best way to navigate it is to be as patient as possible and to seek updates at a frequency that suits you.

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