Applying For Probate And Effective Estate Administration

In November 2018, the Government announced its intentions to spend over £1 billion in reforming HM Courts and Tribunals Services.

The Government claimed the changes would create a ‘modern system for administering justice’.

Rolling out a number of digital services was amongst HMCTS’ initial plans; this included fully automating divorce and probate applications.

In March and April, a perfect storm of probate service centralisation, technology glitches concerning new IT systems and increased applications for a grant of probate started clogging up the system, delaying applications and causing a significant backlog which is yet to be resolved.

As the initial deadline of April 1st for the Non-Contentious Probate (Fees) Order 2018 drew closer, concerned families rushed their applications for probate. The increased volume of applications, number of requisitions for flawed documents and additional technical issues in the updated processes created the initial backlog of up to six weeks.

In addition to this, HMCTS migrated their IT systems to a new case management software which suffered from unexpected glitches and consequently exacerbated the delays.

Alongside these unexpected flaws, HMCTS announced that a number of regional probate registries were set to close as they set about centralising all probate issues under the same site in Birmingham.

The 10 remaining sites across England and Wales were informed that their operations would be scaled back and workers potentially moved into new roles. This has led to a shortage in experienced staff which has increased the backlog.

Concerned that delays were exceeding eight weeks by the end of June, the Law Society implored HMCTS to improve the communication they offered to executors, probate practitioners and grieving families that may have been in desperate need of the grant.

HMCTS insisted that additional staff were employed to help deal with the backlog and that staffing levels were stable. They highlighted that over 45,000 applications had been processed since the end of March and the backlog was reducing.

A significant error within the updated application process had also become clear as applications with multiple executors were only recognising the first named executor. In cases involving poor relationships between executors or cases where the executors do not know each other, this made the process overly difficult. Whilst this area is being resolved, in the short term it has caused significant problems.

One of the perceived triumphs for HMCTS this year concerns the online probate service after successfully testing the online probate system with 28 law firms over the past year. Whilst the delays have plagued everybody, it is clear that the online system offers a robust and efficient way of applying for probate.

Following the change to non-contentious probate rules issued in a Statutory Instrument which was laid before parliament at the end of June, any solicitor or probate practitioner can apply for probate online from October this year.

Whilst the delays may be a persistent factor in the short-term, practitioners will need to be aware of constantly shifting regulations and become adept at using new technological approaches when applying for a grant of probate.

This article was submitted to be published by the Institute of Professional Will Writers as part of their advertising agreement with Today’s Wills and Probate. The views expressed in this article are those of the submitter and not those of Today’s Wills and Probate.

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