Unfortunately, we are continuing to see long delays at the probate registry which are impacting on probate practitioners and personal representatives. Our experience here at Hugh James is that applications are continuing to take at least five to twelve weeks to be processed.
What are the reasons for the continued probate registry delays?
I set out the reasons for the delays in my article of 18 June 2019. In summary, these are as follows:
- A large volume of applications were submitted to the probate registries in March/April 2019 ahead of the planned increases to probate fees, which has caused a backlog. (The increased fees are yet to be implemented).
- The probate registries have implemented a new online probate applications process, which has come with various IT glitches.
- There has been insufficient resource at the probate registries to clear the backlogs.
What does the government say about the probate registry delays?
The probate registry is a division of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), which falls under the remit of the Ministry of Justice. HMCTS recently met with professional bodies, The Law Society, The Society of Trusts and Estates Practitioners (STEP) and Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE), to discuss the delays. During this meeting, HMCTS said they are issuing 20,000 grants a month, and that applications are being dealt with in date order. They will not expedite applications considered by applicants to be “urgent” (e.g., if there is a property sale pending that is dependent on the grant).
30 additional staff members have been recruited to the probate registries to help to clear the backlogs, and the Law Society Gazette has reported that HMCTS have said that the backlog was reduced by 20,000 between May and June 2019. HMCTS have advised that registries are working towards timescales of six to eight weeks to issue grants of probate, and it is hoped that normal service will resume towards the end of the summer.
What is the impact of the probate registry delays and what can I do?
More information can be found in my earlier article, but in short:
- Estate creditors are waiting longer to be paid.
- Beneficiaries are waiting longer to receive their entitlements – this is a particular hardship for charity beneficiaries who are dependent on legacy income.
- Agreed house sales are delayed and, in some cases, are falling through.
Personal representatives and probate practitioners should consider the following:
- It is not wise to telephone the probate registry to chase them – this will only slow them down further, and they will not expedite your application.
- It is important to ensure probate applications are right first time – if they are rejected, you will join the back of the queue.
- All parties involved in the estate administration (such as beneficiaries and conveyancing solicitors) will need to be kept fully updated.
Hugh James will continue to publish updates on this topic.