Continued Delays in Probate Applications
Despite announcing that they issued 960 grants in a single day in May, the new online probate application process, introduced by the HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) in March 2019, continues to wreak havoc.
Historically, the application process took between two to six weeks. But teething problems with the new software have meant the process is now taking between five and 18 weeks.
At the beginning of May, there was a reported backlog of between 30,000 to 35,000 applications.
According to the Law Society Gazette, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has said the delays (of up to four weeks) have been due to problems with the new software and printing system. They have stressed that the new online service will make probate simpler and more convenient for bereaved people.
However, the Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE) group has warned that: ‘The SFE is concerned for those in society who need an urgent grant, especially those who are recently bereaved and have no other option but to apply for probate.
What’s Caused the Delay to Probate Applications?
Three main causes:
1. Increase rush of applications
Undoubtedly the sudden increase in applications (22%) sparked by the rise in probate fees due later this year has had an effect. These changes will see an increase from £215 for personal applications or £155 from a solicitor, up to a maximum of £6,000.
2. New software
Some would say predictably; the implementation of the new system hasn’t gone smoothly. The HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has promised to post regular updates to solicitors and practitioners.
3. Staff numbers
With the announcement that from next year probate registries will be centralised and staff scaled back, the additional pressure of staff training on the new system has led to a resource issue.
What are the Main Effects of Delayed Applications?
They are significant – for legal professionals and beneficiaries:
1. Bereaved families in limbo
Huge delays mean bereaved families are unable to do anything with the assets of the estate. Furthermore, there is little available information about what is happening.
2. Property sales stalled or stopped altogether
Property sales cannot progress to exchange until a grant of representation has been received, resulting in extended delays and potential collapse.
3. Unable to settle outstanding debts
Estate funds cannot be accessed until the grant of representation has been issued. Long delays will leave creditors waiting for payment and naturally puts additional stress on families.
Undoubtedly new IT systems can help enormously when they work correctly. However, it will take time for HMCTS to get to grips with the new system and for the fixes they’ve applied filter through.
During this time, we would urge you not to contact the Registry to find out what is happening with your application. Unfortunately, whilst this is very tempting, it will only compound the problem and result in further delays.
If a probate practitioner or solicitor is handling things on your behalf, they should keep everyone up to date with progress. It is particularly important in respect of property sales; the conveyancer must be kept informed.
As Ruth Pyatt, director at the Solicitors for the Elderly Group (SFE) has pointed out, if mistakes are made on an original application for probate, the corrected forms are put to the back of the queue. So be very careful to check through the application and avoid making mistakes.
If you have been affected by probate registry delays or need advice or further information, please contact us. We’re here to help.
Please note that all views, comments or opinions expressed are for information only and do not constitute and should not be interpreted as being comprehensive or as giving legal advice. No one should seek to rely or act upon, or refrain from acting upon, the views, comments or opinions expressed herein without first obtaining specialist, professional or independent advice. While every effort has been made to ensure accuracy, Curtis Parkinson cannot be held liable for any errors, omissions or inaccuracies.