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Probate delays

This has to be one of the most frustrating things for a lawyer who is dealing with the administration of an estate for a client but there is little that we, as practitioners, can do to make anything any better. Approximately 27,000 probate applications are received each month by the Probate Registry but only 22,500 are issued each month, approximately.

The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives has advised that severe delays with the Probate application process could see families waiting for up to nine months, if not longer to obtain a Grant of Probate, and the fear is that time frame will not improve without adequate resources. The queue for applications are worse now than they have ever been and since April 2022 have increased significantly, although the Probate Registry have advised they have issued more applications than they have received over the last few months.

The application process may involve HM Revenue & Customs if the estate is subject to Inheritance Tax or other reporting criteria. This part of the application process alone could take between three and six months to complete. Inheritance Tax has to be paid before HMRC will release papers to the Probate Registry to issue the Grant of Probate. Banks can pay Inheritance Tax directly to HMRC as can investment managers, if funds are held in certain ways. Inheritance Tax on property can be paid by ten annual instalments helping to ease the burden on executors.

At the time of writing the Probate Registry are only answering telephones for half a working day so they can try and catch up with their backlog but that is not helping families or professionals. Practitioners are unable to request an application be expedited for an emergency as there is no system currently to do this. Applications come and go from the portal, disappearing from time to time, calls are not answered and frustrations mount.

Making sure your will is correctly signed and professionally prepared can help alleviate problems with questions which may be asked about a home made will. Regular checking in with the Probate Registry can help but they are reluctant to provide any information until after sixteen weeks have passed since your application date. If a will is damaged or there are issues with how it is signed a witness statement can be prepared and submitted, so there are things that can be done to speed up the process and prevent questions but it does not change where we are.

Professionals are suffering a backlash from clients who are frustrated and angry about the implications of probate delays on their family situation, but we are doing our best in a situation which is out of our hands.

The Law Society have suggested that a minimum service standard should be introduced to provide clear processing timelines so that expectations ban be managed and to aim to reduce stress and frustrations.

The Council for Licensed Conveyancers have asked for a thorough review of the will writing, storage and probate process.

It is anticipated that approximately £800million in charitable donations are currently locked up in wills waiting for Probate applications to be processed.

The ongoing delays have resulted in the Justice Select Committee looking into the problems we are facing. They have published written submissions for its inquiry into probate delays and started hearing witness evidence in March. Things are being done to try and improve the process but they are all going to fall short of returning to our local Probate Registries staffed by experts in Probate applications, who would answer the phone and know local practitioners on first named basis.

pile of applications
pile of applications

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