Expert Confirms Probate Delays Is Reducing

Ian Bond, Chair of The Law Society’s ‘Wills and Equity Committee’ and Director and Head of Trusts and Estates at Talbots Law confirms HMCTS hope to have sorted out the backlog by the end of September regarding probate applications.

The outcome received from joint meetings with the HMCTS about the ongoing probate delays was that they are getting on top of the situation and working to get back to business as usual by the end of the summer.

As Chair of The Law Society, Ian Bond has attended various meetings with HMCTS, Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners and Solicitors for the Elderly to review how HMCTS have been addressing the issues impacting the probate service.

The continuous delays over the last few months has greatly affected grieving families with disastrous consequences. These include house sales of deceased owners being delayed, and in some cases, even falling through due to purchasers not willing to wait and purchasers’ mortgage agreements containing restricted time limits.

Consequently, many estates have had to wait a lot longer than usual to recoup funds to pay off the deceased persons’ debts, this has resulted in estates being charged more in terms of interest on deceased’s outstanding loans and debts.

Furthermore, the probate service disruption has meant beneficiaries are waiting longer to receive their entitlements which has caused major upset to families who may be dependent on an inheritance. But also troublesome for charity beneficiaries who have strict accounting rules to adhere to when accounting for legacy income.

In the last few weeks, both the Institute of Legacy Management and The Law Society have confronted the HMCTS about the prolonged delays to the probate service which were taking up to 3 months to progress – rather than the week to ten days which used to be the case.

From the meetings, HMCTS reiterated that the probate registries have implemented a new probate IT system to handle applications which has replaced the old “probate man” IT system that they installed in the late 1990s.

HMCTS confirmed that the replacement IT system has caused all the issues over the last few months, due to various IT glitches, and not the move to online probate applications of lay applicants – which will soon be open to more professional users.

Regarding HMCTS’ pilot for online probate applications, Ian Bond advised that Talbots Law have been using the new system successfully.

Ian Bond commented on the new online system confirming:

“That paper applications will remain after they roll out the online probate application system but paper applications will change. For other areas of law such as divorce, employment, and litigation legal professionals use the same forms as lay/personal applicants but in probate applications there is no prescribed forms for professionals (only lay/personal applicants).”

He further added:

“This enables legal professionals to submit un-standardised applications which makes it more difficult for HMCTS to process. The Law Society is working with HMCTS to produce a standard set of forms for paper applications that can be used by lay/personal applicants and legal professionals at the same time. A standardised process will enable greater efficiency for HMCTS.

“However, one-size doesn’t always fit all, The Law Society will make sure that any new forms will be effective and fit for all purposes, but not overly complex so that lay/personal applicants can use them without legal help (if they choose to do it themselves). This won’t be an easy task.”

Ian Bond updates Today’s Wills and Probate about the probate delays following his meeting with the HMCTS on the 27th June to find out how they have been addressing the problems which have been affecting the probate service since they met on the 14th May.

“HMCTS appreciate professionals and their clients have been concerned about the lack of information being made available. The Law Society again pressed for improved communications with updates being consistent in frequency and content. HMCTS have stated that the bulk of the work is 6-8 weeks to process. To assuage the delays, HMCTS has asked that they only be contacted if you have an outlier beyond 8 weeks.

“In the meeting HMCTS informed us that:

  • They have extra people working in probate, including legal advisers, who are predominantly focused on the issue end of the process.
  • While they admit there is a level of attrition in probate with regards to staffing, including loss of experience, they assure us they have kept the overall resource stable. They do, however, have finite resource to conduct training of new staff.
  • They are issuing grants at a higher rate. Since 25th March they have issued around 45,000 grants and assure us the backlog is gradually decreasing.
  • They are reallocating work between registries to help clear the backlogs –some registries performances are better than others. Applications are being done in date order, however, where they are moved to may cause them to go out of sequence. HMCTS are working on trying to equalise the workload.
  • In some instances, such as in Cardiff, grants are being issued using the old system, which is why some solicitors are seeing some grants come back in the old style and some in the new style. HMCTS have confirmed, however, that they have not reverted back to the “probate man”. Cardiff still issues old style grants that are bilingual between English and Welsh as the new style grants are not yet available in Welsh.
  • There had been concerns raised regarding the bulk scanning provider – HMCTS have assured us that their incentives are focused on quality rather than speed, with the validity of the Will being examined by HMCTS.
  • They are aware of issues with the new grant – for example where A and B are executors, but it is only shown as A’s application, this can exacerbate matters if they do not get along. HMCTS will be looking at changing and improving these.
  • There are no changes to the probate fees or confirmation as to when or if they are likely to come in.
  • They have received significant interest from firms to test the online probate system for professional users. HMCTS anticipate that an increase in digital applications will ameliorate the delays currently being experienced.

“We will continue to monitor this situation and will be arranging a further review meeting with HMCTS in August.”

If you have been experiencing delays how long have you been waiting? As a private client professional, how has this impacted on you and your clients?

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