Probate Registry Delays
Following our recent post on probate registry delays, we take a more detailed look at the reasons behind the current problems.
Currently, executors and probate solicitors are experiencing delays at HMRC of up to six weeks before a receipted IHT421 is issued. This is the form that confirms the necessary Inheritance Tax has been paid on an estate. There are also further long delays of between five to twelve weeks at the probate registry.
The upshot of this means that a process that usually takes between two to six weeks (depending on whether or not Inheritance Tax is required to be paid), is currently taking between five to eighteen weeks.
Reasons for probate registry delays
We understand the most likely reasons for the delays to be as follows:
- Volume of work caused by the proposed increase to probate registry fees which has not yet taken place (originally due to take effect in April 2019). HMRC and the probate registries experienced an influx of applications before April, in order that estates could benefit from the old, lower fees structure before the change/increase.
- Changes at the probate registry which include the introduction of a new online application system for personal representatives, and the introduction of new formats for Grants of Probate. It has been well documented by the Law Society Gazette that there have been IT glitches and printing problems following the introduction of the new systems.
- The announcement of a re-structure of the probate registries which, from next year, will see all the probate registries being centralised into Birmingham with an administrative function in Stoke on Trent.
- Staff at HMRC being redeployed onto Brexit-related projects.
Impact of probate registry delays
- Increasing timescales of dealing with estate administration cases. The current delays could add between 3-5 months to the overall timescale.
- Potential problems with agreed sales of properties within estates. Where property sales have been agreed, these cannot progress to exchange of contracts until grants of representation have been received – the delays are increasing the likelihood that sales may fall through.
- Delays in estate debts being paid. It is not possible to access estate funds until the grant of representation has been received. This means that creditors will have to wait longer for payment.
Once HMRC and the probate registries have been able to clear the bottleneck of applications, there should be an improvement in timescales. In the meantime, personal representatives and probate solicitors will need to do all they can to keep their estate beneficiaries, conveyancing solicitors and estate creditors up to date.
Ann-Marie Matthews is a solicitor in the private client team at Barker Gotelee, Solicitors in Suffolk.