York solicitor Rachel Roche is warning bereaved families they could face delays of up two months to sort out financial issues due to a backlog created by a new online probate service.

Before the new online system was introduced in January, it normally took ten days for a court to grant probate and give the legal go ahead to take control of someone’s finances when they die. However, bereaved families in Yorkshire, like the rest of the country, are having to deal with this added worry and delay.

The Leeds District Probate Registry has written to local probate practitioners warning that there is a backlog of applications and they are still dealing with matters submitted in March.

Rachel, founder of Roche Legal, believes bereaved families need to be aware of the scale of the probate problem and said: “The delays faced by our clients and other families in processing these applications is adding to the stress and worry they are experiencing, at what is already a difficult time. If probate is required for the sale of property, there is a real risk that the sale could be lost because of these delays and additional expenses incurred by the estate in remarketing the properties. Many aspects of winding up an estate cannot be completed without probate and extending the period in which families have to wait to deal with this can take its toll.”

Solicitors For The Elderly met with officials at HM Courts and Tribunal Service to discuss the computer system problems which replaced the established practise of civil servants examining wills manually. They were responsible for spotting fakes, alterations and whether they met the legal requirements but the online probate service outsources this to a private company. Wills are now checked by ‘bulk scanning and printing services’ on a computer.

The lengthy delays coincide with controversial plans to increase probate fees to as much as £6,000 on the largest estates, instead of a flat fee of £215, or £155 if dealt with by a solicitor, were due to be introduced, but have been delayed by Brexit with Labour insisting they are going to try and block the move when it comes before MPs. Critics claim the increased charges are effectively a ‘tax on wealth’, which is expected to raise £155million a year to pay for running the Ministry of Justice, and won’t reflect administration costs. In February, the cost of a death certificate almost tripled from £4 to £11.

Christina Blacklaws, president of the Law Society of England and Wales, said: “The costs to the courts for granting probate does not change whether the estate is worth £50,000 or £2m. Making larger estates pay more is effectively just increasing the level of inheritance tax by stealth. It is inherently unfair to expect the bereaved to subsidise other parts of the courts and tribunal service, particularly in circumstances where they have no other option but to apply for probate. This is a tax on grief.”

Note to editors: Rachel Roche is an award-winning solicitor based in York and can be contacted for interview through Chris Jones Media on 07774 772820/07738 005133