Receiving a windfall of any size in the form of inheritance marks the end of the legal road following the death of a loved one, but for many people probate can be a drawn out process.

Half of 2,000 people polled by Co-op Legal Services falsely expect to receive any inheritance less than 6 months after a relative has passed away.

In reality, the average length of time to complete administration of the estate and for inheritance to be distributed to any beneficiaries takes nearer 11 months.

More complicated cases, including those where no will is involved or where the deceased's will is not legally valid, can take considerably longer.

The research suggests that many people don't know where to begin when it comes to handling probate, so let's take a brief look at the processes involved and what you can expect.

What is probate?

Probate is the process of handling an estate, which includes any assets such as money, property and possessions, following the death of a loved one.

This involves collecting and calculating all of the deceased's assets, paying off any debts and settling the inheritance tax bill before distributing what's left to any beneficiaries.

What complications can arise?

Larger estates and those where an overseas property is involved are usually more complicated to process, while cases where the deceased did not have a legally valid will can be tricky.

Complications cans also arise if the deceased's will was drawn up by a bank, which can act as a co-executor or professional executor of the will and usually carry out probate at substantial cost.

Most banks charge on a percentage basis, which can be one of the most expensive ways to undertake this process.

Can I do it myself?

Yes. Consumer watchdog Which? claims around 1 in 3 people choose to carry out probate themselves rather than using an experienced professional, such as an accountant or solicitor.

This is usually the cheapest way to conduct probate, but you should fully understand the process and how time-consuming it can be from start to finish before you take this on.

It's also important to go into it knowing that taking on the task yourself can overcomplicate the process, and it may hit you in the pocket if a professional is needed to sort it out.

Co-op Legal Services warn that doing your own probate at an emotional time may not be straightforward for those who lack the knowledge.

Gavin Holt, head of probate at Co-op Legal Services, said:

"Whether you're an executor named in a will, or the next of kin in the absence of a will, dealing with the estate of a loved one can be difficult.

"It's not something that comes around very often, and people often don't know where to begin.

"As with all legal work, it's very important to get probate right, and a lot of peace of mind can come from handing it over to an expert."

Final thoughts

Most accountants can handle the often complex and onerous task of administrating the deceased's estate and offer a conclusive probate service at a reasonable price.

We can also draft and hold a legally valid will on your behalf, which will ensure familiarity with your assets and speed up the probate process for any beneficiaries.

Talk to us about any aspect of inheritance.