Probate Delays: What to Expect

Applying for a grant of probate is a crucial step in dealing with an estate. Personal representatives usually need to be granted probate before they can start accessing accounts and distributing assets. However, the wait between putting in an application and receiving your grant is currently longer than ever before.

Before Covid-19, an application for probate would usually take no more than a couple of weeks. This changed in 2020, when the Law Society reported that there was ‘some volatility in waiting times.’ The issue has only amplified since then, and the reality now is that you will almost certainly be waiting a great deal longer than the eight weeks advised on the Government’s website. 

What is the current situation?

At the moment, there is typically an eight week waiting period for the Probate Registry to create the case, followed by an estimated eight to ten week wait for probate to be granted. This means that applicants are looking at an overall wait of sixteen to eighteen weeks before they receive their final grant.

To illustrate this, on 25th October 2022, the Probate Registry stated that they were currently working on cases created on 22nd June 2022. This shows that the current back log is around 4 months.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that paper applications are experiencing greater delays than online applications. This is likely to be exaggerated in the coming months as a result of postal strikes. 

Why are there such significant delays?

Like many other organisations, the Probate Registry experienced unprecedented pressures during 2020 and 2021. This created a backlog, which has since been worsened by a range of other factors. 

Once a backlog had built up, the Probate Registry began to receive a much greater volume of phone calls than usual from applicants and legal practitioners chasing up applications. This issue has been heightened by the fact that the Probate Registry do not always send an acknowledgement to confirm that applications have been received, which means more calls are made to check this. Dealing with this volume of phone calls has massively increased the workload of the Probate Registry and, as a result, has increased the backlog. 

Probate applications can’t be granted until the relevant inheritance tax forms are received from HMRC, which can take up to 20 days. Because of this, HMRC delays can have a knock on effect on how quickly the Probate Registry are able to work.

There have also been some issues with errors made by the Ministry of Justice’s scanning partners, including bindings being incorrectly removed from wills, which resulted in staple marks. Staple marks in a Will are always a matter for investigation, as they may mean that there are pages or codicils missing. 

What are the impacts of these delays?

The probate delays have had a multitude of impacts on both personal representatives and legal practitioners. Personal representatives are frequently being left unable to proceed with administering estates, legal practitioners are having to keep client matters open for far longer than necessary and huge numbers of house sales have been held up. In many cases, delays have resulted in mortgage offers expiring and/or significant extra costs having to be taken out of estates.

This can be incredibly frustrating for personal representatives and beneficiaries, who may feel unable to get on with their lives. It is also far from ideal for legal practitioners, who have been left unable to provide clients with reliable timeframes.

If you are affected by this issue, please be assured that you are not alone. Your solicitor will be doing everything they can to ensure your grant of probate is being processed. However, there’s no escaping that this is a difficult situation with no clear end currently in sight. 

Update from HMCTS: 13 December 2022

  • They have employed and trained more staff
  • They have centralised their telephone and email response centres over the last 2-3 weeks and we should start to see improvement shortly. 
  • They are now up to date with the scanning of cases onto the system
  • They will be expanding their online service to cover more types of cases  

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