Those seeking to obtain grants of probate across England and Wales are experiencing long delays, resulting in those charged with administering estates being left in limbo solicitors are reporting. These delays are being put down to the combined effects of the implementation of new software at probate registries and a spike in applications as people scramble to submit their applications before the introduction of new probate fees.
Courts typically aim to process applications within ten days, but deadlines have been increased to four weeks as a result. Some lawyers have said that that they have been required to wait between six and eight weeks.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) introduced new software, which it describes as a new case management system, in March of this year. In the weeks and months since, problems have been reported with printers at local registries while HM Revenue & Customs, which has responsibility for administering Inheritance Tax, has also reported delays. These issues have led to financial hardship for some applicants, while commentators have reported that thousands of property transactions may be put at risk by the delays. Solicitors have also faced accusations of a lack of professionalism as a consequence of hold-ups that are outside their control.
Probate is the term used to describe the process whereby an individual, or a solicitor acting on their behalf, applies for the right to deal with the estate of someone who has died. An application must be made for a grant of probate, which is a legal document that confirms that the person, acting as an executor or administrator, has the right to deal with the deceased person’s assets. This will then permit them to access funds held in a bank account or to sell any property that they owned, amongst other responsibilities. Applying for a grant of probate is a fundamental step in the administration of an estate, enabling the executor or administrator to wind the estate up before distributing assets to beneficiaries listed in the Will.
At the end of last year, the government announced plans to change the way that fees will be charged for the processing of probate applications. Under the new system, costs will be linked to the size of the estate in question, with the threshold at which no probate charged being increased from £5,000 to £50,000. At the same time, the fees for larger estates will be increased, with the wealthiest estates – those valued at more than £2 million – due to be charged £6,000. At present, the cost of making an application is £215 for members of the public and £155 for applications made by a solicitor. The new fees were due to come in to effect at the beginning of April 2019 pending parliamentary approval, but have been delayed indefinitely due to ongoing Brexit debates.
Wilford Smith’s estate planning lawyers can provide clear, pragmatic advice on all matters concerning probate. With offices in London, Sheffield and Manchester, we regularly act on behalf of clients throughout England and Wales.