We all understand the stress that family and friends are under when someone dies. There is a myriad of matters to sort at a time when people are grieving. Dealing with probate is one of the most complex issues for executors and beneficiaries when the estate has to be administered. One of the last things they need is delay, but unfortunately, it looks like the COVID-19 pandemic has led to exactly that.
Chair of Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE), Michael Culver says: “It used to be possible to get a grant of probate in two weeks, now it’s more like 12. We have real concerns about how further delays will impact people at an already distressing time.” He will be meeting with HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) next week to put forward SFE’s concerns and joining forces with other bodies who have similar concerns to lobby for a better service. He is also keen to emphasise the message that the delays are “out of the hands of solicitors”, so why are these delays happening?
Laura Cowan, senior private client advisor at Graysons and member of SFE says: “The delay is certainly not at the solicitor’s end. We are doing everything we can to help our clients to expedite matters. The government’s own probate website says: “Because of coronavirus (COVID-19), probate applications are taking longer than usual to process”, but it gives no indication how long the delay is or why.”
The Probate Registry was already struggling before coronavirus hit the country and brought it to a standstill in March this year. There had been a surge in applications for probate before the planned fee increase in April 2020. In the end, these plans were dropped late in 2019 and are yet to be reviewed but the backlog had already built up. The service is trying to modernise and improve. It was centralised last year, but this added to the backlog, causing significant delays. Then, just when it seemed that things were getting back to normal by the end of last year, digitising the service at the beginning of this year caused delays to build again and then the pandemic hit. Lockdown, reduced workforce and a sadly increasing death rate have contributed to further huge delays. The Registry Office says that since May this year, fewer grants have been issued every week than have been received and that sometimes the gap is up to 1000 grants.
From 2nd November, all applications for probate by solicitors must be made online, except in certain circumstances, such as where there is no will. The government is confident that the service will be “quicker and more reliable” following the recent changes to the system, but in the meantime and despite these unfortunate delays, Graysons’ private client team continues its work to help clients deal with all issues relating to wills and administering estates. Contact our team now for advice.