Probate practitioners and personal representatives are continuing to see long delays at the probate registry. The usual turnaround time for a grant of probate application is two weeks, but the recent delays have meant applications are taking five to twelve weeks; some practitioners have reported delays of up to thirteen weeks.
What are the reasons for the continued probate registry delays?
- A backlog due to an influx of applications in March/April. The probate registry delays were discussed in the House of Lords on 12 June 2019, during which Lord Keen noted there was a 22% increase in the volume of applications leading up to the proposed fees increase in April 2019. This fees increase is yet to be implemented due to a lack of parliamentary time.
- IT problems. According to the Law Society Gazette, the Ministry of Justice has stated the delays are due to the implementation of a new online probate applications process. There have been problems with the registry’s new software, and their printing systems.
- Resource problems. The Law Society has raised concerns that the Ministry of Justice has not increased resource in the probate registries sufficiently to enable the backlog to be cleared, and that the problem may worsen in the summer months due to staff taking leave.
What is the impact of the continued probate registry delays?
The continued delays mean estates are taking longer to administer, resulting in delays in estate creditors being paid. It will take longer for beneficiaries to ultimately receive their entitlements from estates. This will cause difficulties for charity beneficiaries, who are reliant on legacy income.
The delays are also very problematic for estates where property sales have been agreed, as a grant of probate is required in order to exchange contracts. Whilst the probate registries are able to expedite grant applications in cases where property sales were agreed before the deceased died, they do not consider applications where the sale was agreed after the date of death to be urgent. There is, therefore, a real risk that property sales will fall through in cases where buyers are tired of waiting for the grant to be received, in order that contracts may be exchanged.
What can I do about the probate registry delays?
If you are a probate practitioner or personal representative and you are waiting for a grant of probate, you should not contact the probate registry to chase up your application, tempting as this may be. Having to deal with chasing telephone calls, emails and letters will take registry staff away from their main job of actually issuing the grants of probate, and will only slow them down further.
Probate practitioners or personal representatives should make all parties involved in the estate fully aware of the delays, and keep them all updated. Where a property sale has been agreed, the conveyancing solicitor must be kept in the loop so they can update the buyer’s solicitors.
Care should be taken to avoid mistakes in probate applications, as there will be delays in requisitions regarding defective applications being made by the probate registry. Once mistakes have been dealt with, the applications will join the back of the queue. Practitioners should have regard to the probate registry’s published guidance setting out common errors, such as a failure to “clear off” correctly, and a failure to recite the date of birth in the statement of truth, to ensure their applications are correct first time.
Hugh James will continue to publish updates about the continuing delays.