Probate registry delays
The Probate Registry are experiencing considerable delays in dealing with probate applications. Whilst the usual turnaround time for a probate application was two to three weeks, the current turnaround time is five to twelve weeks. Some colleagues of mine have reported a fourteen week delay! I am still waiting for probate on applications submitted mid-March 2019.
What are the reasons for the continued Probate Registry delays?
- Earlier in the year there was a plan to increase probate fees substantially. The fee increase was due to take effect at the start of April 2019. The increase has not gone ahead due to lack of parliamentary time but nevertheless there was a 22% increase in probate application leading up to the proposed fee increase – everyone wanted to get the applications submitted before the fees went up;
- At the same time, as part of the wider HMCTS reform, the Probate Service has transferred to a new computer system to support probate digital online applications. The Probate Registry have reported that they have had problems with the new IT system which has added to the delays;
- Lack of resource – the Probate Registry have not increased their resource to deal with the influx of applications earlier in the year and so the backlog is taking time to clear. This problem may worsen in the summer when staff take their summer holidays!
What is the impact of the delays?
The delays mean that estates are taking much longer to administer because the estate assets cannot be cashed in or property sold; creditors cannot be paid and ultimately the beneficiaries cannot receive their entitlements.
This is a particular problem for estates where property sales have been agreed because contracts cannot be exchanged without the Grant of Probate. This may lead to a chain collapsing and a sale falling through in cases where buyers get tired of waiting or indeed their mortgage offers expire!
What can be done?
Unfortunately not much. The Probate Registry have asked that applications are not chased by phone, email or letter as this will take time away from the staff trying to clear the backlog. The best we can do is make sure everyone is aware of the delays so that expectations are managed.