Probate delays

There have been a number of reports in the news regarding the ongoing probate delays but what is behind the current problems?

Earlier on this year the Government announced its proposal to increase probate fees from £125 (or £155 with a solicitor) to a sliding scale of fees ranging from £250 to £6,000 (depending upon the value of the estate). On top of this, with parliament recently prorogued, the motion to approve the increase in probate fees has now lapsed. These two events mean that many have rushed to get in their probate grant applications.

Alongside the above, HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) have begun to modernise and streamline the probate system. They have started to centralise the regional probate registries, starting with the Birmingham Probate Registry. However, there have been initial IT glitches in the new system.

The Law Society, Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE) and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) have held meetings with HMCTS to review the resulting delays. Evidence shows that solicitors (and their clients) have reported waiting for longer than six to eight weeks (which was HMCTS’ estimation) to receive a Grant of Probate. HMCTS have informed the Law Society that they have issued 98,000 grants since April 2019, but still have a backlog from March.

Delays in obtaining the Grant of Probate may have the following, amongst other, consequences:

  1. House sales falling through;
  2. Families being prevented from putting homes on the market;
  3. Being unable to access the deceased’s bank account to pay outstanding debts or bills; and
  4. Stress for those who are liable to pay inheritance tax from six months after the death.

One of the main frustrations of applying for probate is obtaining an update on the status of an application. HMCTS acknowledged that their communication with the applications has not been clear enough and they are working with management teams to improve their response levels. On a more positive note, HMCTS hopes to roll out a new online service for solicitors at the end of October. Once registered, the details of applications will be uploaded within 24 hours, which should hopefully improve delays.

Katherine Parker is a trainee solicitor currently working in the Private Client department at Barker Gotelee, Ipswich Solicitors.

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