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Probate Office restricts access to helpline for three months

The Probate Office has announced that it will restrict access to its helpline for the next three months in order to handle a large backlog of probate applications that are taking up to 12 months to process. The phone line will be available from 9 am to 1 pm Monday to Friday, instead of the usual 9 am to 5 pm.


Laura Cowan, head of Graysons’ private client team

Since the pandemic, there have been severe delays in obtaining probate, which has caused upset for many people who have been unable to finalise the estates for which they are responsible.

Probate is the legal right to deal with someone’s estate when they die. It gives permission to action the deceased’s will, which includes sorting assets, selling property and dealing with liabilities, such as mortgages.

Even though the government advises that probate should take up to 16 weeks, people are waiting up to a year to get the grant of probate. Inheritance tax is due within six months of a person’s death. Many people assume that the deceased’s estate will pay any inheritance tax (IHT) due, and it will in the long run. However, the huge delay is causing significant issues, in particular when there are not enough liquid assets in the estate, and it is necessary for assets to be sold to meet the IHT liability. Deferred payments to HMRC can be arranged, but it charges 7.75 percent interest on late payments.

The Law Society has been aware of significant delays for some time. Its president, Nick Emmerson, has recognised efforts to reduce them by restricting access to the helpline, but he says that the performance level and expertise of HM Courts and Tribunal Service staff need improvement too and that “without a new level of staffing, the change to the probate enquiry line opening hours will be in vain and our members’ clients will continue to suffer.”

Laura Cowan, head of Graysons’ private client department says:

“The ongoing delays with the Probate Registry and continually changing timescales are very frustrating both for our clients and our staff, making it difficult to manage expectations. The fact that work is ongoing to try to improve the situation is appreciated, but we have a long way to go to return to the service levels experienced prior to the centralisation of the Probate Registry and COVID.”

Our private client experts can help with all enquiries relating to wills and probate issues.  Contact them now to discuss your needs.

Author: Laura Cowan, head of Graysons’ private client team

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