Probate Delays

Probate Delays Causing Suffering to Bereaved Families

13/02/2024

The Justice Committee launched an inquiry in November 2023 into the wait times experienced by the public and practitioners in applying for Grants of Probate or Letters of Administration, the consequences of this, and how the situation can be improved.

Recently, a damning report on the Government’s probate service was handed to the MPs of the Justice Committee to assist their investigation into the extremely long delays faced by executors and bereaved families. The report alleges that the service is error-prone and lacking experienced staff.

The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) also submitted evidence to the Committee detailing the significant failings at the probate service and urged HM Courts and Tribunals Service to consider outsourcing in order to alleviate some of the backlog and improve the unreasonable timescales currently facing bereaved families.

Impact on House Sales and Government Estimates

Practitioners have found that the sale of houses in estates have been falling through due to the length of time it takes to receive the Grant of Probate. STEP found that 100% of firms they surveyed at the end of 2023 had clients experiencing house sales falling through due to delays in obtaining probate.

The Government website (at the time of writing) is currently advising that Grants of Probate or Letters of Administration should usually be received within 16 weeks of submitting the application. That is approximately four months. Practitioners will recall a time when receiving a Grant of Probate within a maximum of four weeks was the norm! And this estimate provided by the Government does not appear to be particularly accurate either, considering there are reports from practitioners that they have been waiting 11 months for a Grant.

Errors in Probate Issuance

Delays are not the only issues with the current probate system; STEP found a noticeable increase in the number of Grants of Probate issued with typos and/or incorrect information. When this happens, you have to contact the Probate Registry to have the Grant reissued with the correct information, causing even further delays.

STEP also found that errors caused by the Probate Registry were one of the key causes of cases being stopped, and therefore delayed further. When firms email the Probate Registry about these cases, the emails are put to the back of the queue, resulting in even further delays of another four to six months!

The Cost of Delays

The delays and issues encountered when applying for a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration not only have monetary consequences, such as house sales falling through, paying abortive sale fees, insuring the (often vacant) property for longer, paying utilities for the property for an extended period, and remarketing but also take an emotional toll on families who are grieving and want closure in the estate of their lost loved one.

It is important that people are aware of the extensive delays with the probate process, and the reasons for this. As practitioners, we are all doing our best; however, these delays are out of our hands. Hopefully, the Justice Committee’s inquiry, supported by evidence from the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners, will mean that changes will be made at the Probate Registry, and we will finally start to see their timescales coming down.

How Pinney Talfourd Can Help

If you require support with obtaining a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration, or managing the administration of an estate, our Private Client Team is here to assist you.

For more information or to book an appointment, please get in touch with our Private Client team on 01708 229 444.

This article was written by Jessica Newton, Associate in our Private Client Team. The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. This article is based on the law as of February 2024.

13/02/2024

Authors

Jessica Newton

Associate

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