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22 March 2023 | Comment | Article by Eleanor Evans TEP

Applying for probate: How long does it take?

Eleanor Evans, Partner and Head of Trusts and Estate Administration at Hugh James, comments on the ongoing delays at the probate registry.

A grant of probate is a document issued by the court, which gives the personal representative of a deceased person’s estate the legal authority to sell property and close accounts belonging to the deceased. Where no will was left (an intestacy), the grant is known as a grant of letters of administration.

The probate service has been affected by numerous changes over recent years, to include the introduction of (and several updates to) an online application system, the closure of local probate registries, and two aborted proposals to drastically increase probate fees that resulted in large influxes of applications. The Covid pandemic also affected the service, with the increased death rate and changes to working practices adding to the strain.

The impact of this has been an increase to the wait time for grants of probate after applications have been made, to a standard sixteen week wait. Often, it can take longer than this to receive a grant. Complex applications need to be made on paper rather than online and, unfortunately, paper applications tend to be processed more slowly than online applications.

When applications are “stopped” by the probate registry – usually due to a mistake, missing document, or unusual complication – a grant of probate may take even longer.

These wait times are upsetting for bereaved families who are keen to see closure following the death of a loved one. They also cause problems with practical steps that need to be taken – for example, delaying sales of estate properties. Charities, who are dependent on much-needed legacy income, have to wait longer to receive legacies left by supporters in their wills.

Hope may be on the horizon, as the court service have reported that more staff are being recruited and trained to reduce the backlogs of applications and improve turnaround times. It is, however, unclear when we will begin to see any improvement.

If you would like to discuss applying for probate or the administration of an estate, please contact our Trusts and Estates Administration team.

Author bio

Eleanor Evans TEP


Eleanor is Head of the Trusts and Estates Administration Department, a large team dealing with estates and trusts administration on behalf of financial institution and trust corporation clients.  Eleanor is a specialist in wills, probate, tax and trusts, and is a full member of STEP (the Society of Trusts and Estates Practitioners).  She is also a committee member of the STEP Wales branch.

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