When someone passes away, it is often necessary for the executors named in their Will to obtain a ‘Grant of Probate’ in order to administer their estate.
The Probate application process can take some time. Collating information with regard to the assets and liabilities of the estate is no quick job and, even in the most straightforward of cases, it can take eight to 12 weeks to compile all of the information required to prepare the probate paperwork.
Historically, once the application for Probate had been submitted, the Probate Registry usually processed the application and issued the Grant of Probate within a couple of weeks, allowing the executors to then get on with the rest of the administration of the estate.
However, in light of Covid-19 and changes to internal operating systems, the Probate Registry is now taking significantly longer to issue a Grant. Many staff have been furloughed. Those that have continued to work are working from home. Phone lines are closed. All applications now have to be sent to a central registry, where they are then allocated and sent on to whichever Probate Registry has capacity to take them. Whereas solicitors used to send applications to their local Probate Registry and could normally contact that Registry directly for updates, that is no longer possible.
We cannot blame Covid-19 entirely for these delays. There has been quite an overhaul of the way in which applications are submitted, with the recent advent of the online application process. From now on, solicitors are obliged to make most Probate applications online rather than by post. (There are some exceptions to this). But the system is still very much in its infancy and there are numerous glitches which will need to be ironed out as time goes on.
In addition to the new application process, there are also changes to the way executors correspond with both HMRC and the Probate Registry regarding taxable or more complex estates. Designed to streamline the process, HMRC will now liaise directly with the Probate Registry in order to confirm that the Inheritance Tax return has been submitted by the executor. However, this unfortunately seems to have had the opposite effect and there have been significant teething problems with marrying up the HMRC returns with the Probate applications. Again, this has been contributing to lengthy delays in obtaining a Grant.
The only helpline available is the Central Probate Registry and phone lines of local registries are not currently taking calls. This means it is very difficult to get a substantive update in respect of an application. Even the Central Probate Registry will not answer any queries, unless the current estimated turnaround time of eight weeks has passed since the application was submitted. In some recent cases, we have been waiting over four months for a Grant. This, of course, can have serious repercussions for the estate, for example where a property sale hangs in the balance.
We can only hope that, as the new procedures become more familiar and technical issues are ironed out, things will start to improve. Of course, the ongoing pandemic has not helped matters and it can only be hoped that, as organisations adapt and find new ways of working, things will start to run more smoothly. Until then, we will of course continue to do everything we can to progress matters as swiftly as possible for our clients but the significant delays in obtaining grants of probate are, sadly, entirely beyond our control.
We are here to help. If you would like more information about any aspect of Probate, please contact our Private Client team on tel: 01892 515022
This blog is not intended as legal advice that can be relied upon and CooperBurnett does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of its contents.