Probate delays: an update

Our Wills, Trusts & Probate team has been in contact with the Probate Registry, who has informed us that they are currently processing stopped applications from 15 February and straightforward applications from 31 May. Despite positive government data in recent months, this shows that the Probate Registry is still suffering from a significant backlog following the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

What is causing the delays?

Delays in the probate process first began in 2019, when proposed probate fee hikes led to a surge in applications as people rushed to get probate granted prior to the deadline. Although the proposals were eventually abandoned, it still left the Probate Registry with a significant backlog. Next came a £1bn shakeup of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), with regional probate registries closed in favour of a new, centralised system, with the last registries closing just before the pandemic broke out. The probate system is not the only area earmarked for improvement, incidentally; the government has just launched a consultation on proposed improvements to the lasting power of attorney (LPA) process. Take a look at our blog on this topic here.

In addition, a new online probate service was launched (the use of which is now mandatory for legal professionals applying for probate on their clients’ behalf) which, according to a survey by Solicitors for the Elderly in December last year, was condemned as not fit for purpose by 95% of solicitors. Combined with a surge in deaths due to the pandemic and the government’s work from home mandate leaving a skeleton staff in probate offices to deal with paper applications, it really was a perfect storm.

The same survey also revealed that half of all applications to the Probate Registry were facing delays of between nine and 20 weeks, while one in 20 faced delays of more than eight months.

The second wave

Winter’s second wave of the virus also led to a second wave of delays, according to the Law Society Gazette. Official government figures state that digital applications are currently taking four weeks from submission to a grant being issued (11 weeks if stopped), while paper applications are taking three weeks (16 weeks if stopped). However, this is not what frustrated solicitors have been reporting to the Law Society, while our own consultation with the Probate Registry shows there is currently a backlog of at least two months for straightforward applications and a wait of over five months for stopped applications.

According to the Law Society, legal professionals are reporting the following issues:

  • Applications being stopped in error and sent to the back of the queue
  • Failure of access codes
  • Entering details correctly but being sent back to the login page
  • Difficulties in getting through to the Probate Registry, with many reporting being on hold for over an hour for a single client.

What is a ‘stopped’ application and why do they take longer?

Throughout this article, we have referred to different waiting times depending on whether or not an application has been stopped.

Applications are stopped when there is a dispute regarding an aspect of probate, or if any of the forms have missing or incomplete information. An applicant may apply for a stop (also known as entering a caveat) if, for example, there is a dispute regarding the validity of a Will, or who should be the Will’s executor. Meanwhile, the Probate Registry will stop an application because further information or assurances are required before a grant of probate can be issued.

Working to help you

Woodfines’ own Wills, Trusts & Probate team is no stranger to the delays plaguing the probate process over the past 18 months. Even so, we have worked tirelessly to eliminate delays as far as is possible. This includes correctly filling in the relevant documentation – for example, ensuring the names on the application form precisely match those in the Will, as even the slightest deviation can result in a stop – to chasing up delays on your behalf with the Probate Registry. Even where we are unable to speed the process along due to circumstances beyond our control, we will ensure you are kept informed every step of the way.

To get in touch with our probate experts, please email or call 0344 967 2505.

Jacqui Pearce






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