Probate registries have been under a lot of pressure over the past few years causing lengthy delays for people applying for Grants of Probate or Grants of Letters of Administration. However, it looks like some of probate application backlog may finally be easing, despite the continuing Covid-19 pandemic.
In 2020, people were looking at waiting times of around 14 weeks on average, with many applications taking longer.
In February 2021, the Probate Service reported that the average waiting time for a Grant of Probate has fallen to around five weeks. At Stephen Rimmer, we have also seen average waiting times drop in comparison to last year. However, it is still hard to predict how long an individual application will take, with taxable estates appearing to take longer to receive probate.
What has been causing the probate delays?
It all started with the proposed introduction of a new controversial probate fee structure in 2017. The government proposed to increase probate fees from £215 or £115 (if done by a solicitor) to a sliding scale ranging from £250 to £6,000 depending on the value of the estate.
These huge increases led to a surge in applications, creating backlogs for probate registries. These fee increases were never implemented but the damage was done.
The government has also been working to centralise probate registries and as a result, many local registries have closed down. This has exacerbated delays.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been the final major issue for probate services. With registry staff having to adapt to working from home and new processes put in place to process applications, there have inevitably been further delays.
What is the effect of probate delays?
Until the Grant of Probate (if there is a Will) or Grant of Letters of Administration (if there is no Will) is granted, the executors or administrators cannot sort out the deceased’s financial affairs.
How can probate delays cause problems?
Losing someone close to you is of course a terrible experience. One that can often be made worse by a long, complicated probate and estate administration process. When grieving, you do not want to be spending so much time worrying about the legal details.
Having the right solicitor on side can be invaluable during this time as they can handle all the difficult matters on your behalf, including chasing the Grant application. However, we appreciate that waiting for the Grant of Probate to be issued can be stressful in itself.
Waiting for probate can also cause some practical problems, for example:
- Selling the deceased person’s property will likely depend on the Grant of Probate. This is particularly troublesome as many buyers will be trying to get in before the Stamp Duty holiday ends in September 2021 and may pull out of a probate sale that is taking too long.
- Maintaining and protecting the deceased person’s property for a long time may become a costly burden.
- There may be outstanding bills that cannot be paid because you do not have access to the deceased’s bank accounts, which you may end up having to pay out of your own pocket (although you should be able to recover expenses from the estate later on).
- It can sometimes lead to disputes between the executors (if there is a Will) or administrators (if there is no Will) and beneficiaries who may not understand why there are delays.
- Where a deceased person has made a legacy donation, probate delays may prevent charities (a sector which has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic) from receiving money when they need it.
What can you do if probate is delayed?
Getting the probate process underway as quickly as possible is the best step you can take to minimise the impact of any delays. For example, if the estate is taxable, arrange valuations of the deceased’s assets as soon as possible to get the Inheritance Tax process underway.
It is also important to keep everyone updated throughout the process, particularly the beneficiaries, to ensure that everyone understands what is going on and to lower the risk of disputes.
Finally, speak to your probate solicitor to check whether it is necessary to follow up on a delayed probate application or whether there is anything you can do in your personal circumstances to progress the matter.
Get expert probate advice
For practical, sensitive advice about probate and estate administration after someone dies, get in touch with our specialist probate solicitors.
We can handle as much or as little of probate as you need us to, moving quickly and proactively so you can complete the process as soon as possible.
We offer a free, no obligation 30-minute chat with one of our specialist probate lawyers to all new clients.
To arrange your initial consultation, you can:
- Call: 01323 434414
- Email: email@example.com
- Or pay us a visit at 28 – 30 Hyde Gardens Eastbourne East Sussex BN21 4PX