28 September 2023

The responsibilities of an executor: probate delays and problems with beneficiaries

By Ed Harris, Solicitor, Hayes + Storr.

Behind every probate application there is usually a bereaved family trying to organise their affairs at what can be an extremely upsetting time. Additionally, the stress can be compounded by delays to probate being granted.

Probate is the legal right to administer the estate of a deceased person. However, Probate is not always required and will depend on the assets within the estate. When Probate is required and has been granted by the Probate Registry, the next of kin or the executor can then start to deal with the deceased person’s assets.

Delays to probate applications

After new procedures were introduced to the probate applications process in 2020, applying for probate has become increasingly difficult and delays at the Probate Registry are currently at their worst since 2019. A grant of probate or letters of administration are usually issued within 16 weeks of submitting an application, but it can take longer.

Delays can also occur if the estate is complicated/taxable, if a will is unclear or has been poorly drafted, or if communication and trust break down with beneficiaries. In such cases, it is a good idea to instruct a solicitor from the outset, as they can help to correctly interpret the will and act as an intermediary between you and the beneficiaries.

Be clear about your legal duties

The first thing to do is to read the will carefully to make sure that you understand the terms of the will. If there is no will, then you should familiarise yourself with the intestacy rules and seek legal advice if you are unsure about what to do.

Interpreting the will

As executor, it is up to you to ensure that the will is correctly interpreted. If you do not have the appropriate legal expertise, you should seek advice. If you distribute the estate incorrectly, lack of knowledge will not constitute a valid defence in any claim against you if you failed to obtain advice.

Problems can arise if a will was poorly drafted or homemade, especially if the terms of the will are unclear. You may struggle to decipher exactly who gets what from the estate.


It could be that certain family members or friends have been deliberately left out of a will, or perhaps there is no will and certain people are upset because intestacy laws do not provide for them.

A claim could be made on the basis that the will is invalid due to the testator not having had the requisite capacity when it was made, or being placed under undue pressure to make the will.

How can we help?

The role of executor is a serious one that attracts strict requirements.

Professional legal advice will ensure that you are aware of the legalities and that you deal with the estate, including liaising with beneficiaries, correctly and fully. Here at Hayes + Storr, our solicitors who work in estate administration and probate can help you make sure you have completed all the steps required and navigate any disputes.

Contentious probate is increasingly common and is tricky to deal with. We can help if you receive any indication that someone may make a claim against the estate. For further information, please contact Ed Harris in the wills and probate team on 01328 863231 or email edward.harris@hayes-storr.com.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.