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.