Probate Applications – the latest on turnaround times

2 Jul 2020 | Jan Atkinson

Until around 18 months ago, the turnaround time for grant of probate applications could be as little as 5 to 7 days if one chose to apply to one of the more efficient Probate Registries. Then came the debacle with the new Government computer system being installed at all the Registries as part of a Centralisation process which created huge delays of several months.

This came at a particularly difficult time because the Government had indicated a clear intention to introduce a huge hike in probate fees from April 2019, based on estate value, rather than a fixed fee of £155.  The plan would have led to probate fees of up to £6K so the delays caused great consternation for lawyers and executors who were fearful of great additional costs to estates and consequently felt pressurised to file applications for probate before all necessary information was to hand. Not the intended effect! It was subsequently announced on 14 October 2019 that the plan to increase probate fees so significantly was being scrapped, which was very welcome news.

Apart from the fact these time delays led to grant applications taking several months to process and gave the impression that solicitors were not acting in an efficient way, the delays could frequently cause great financial anxiety for beneficiaries who were unable to access bank accounts to provide for their immediate needs following the death of a close family member.

Bereavement is one of the most distressing life experiences without the added stress caused by money worries when the lack of a grant of probate for months on end could prevent access to urgently needed funds.

In recent months, the turnaround time has started to shorten and in the last few days there has been an announcement that the Government has significantly increased the number of staff working at the Registries to try and achieve a much shorter turnaround time of not more than six weeks from application for a grant to issue.

The number of grant applications has surged during lockdown and is exceeding the number of grants being issued. So some HMCTS employees have been retrained and new staff hired to address this situation. This is very welcome news, so let’s hope the time lag continues to fall and we can get nearer to the much shorter 2018 time scales in place before the centralisation process began.

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