Last updated on November 30th, 2020 at 03:06 pm
The Probate Registry standard advice is that delay is attributable to an increased number of applications for grants of probate. Commonly, applications are taking more than eight weeks with some taking several months to be processed.
There have been a number of systems changes to the Probate Registry process, which in our view are adding to the delay and problems. Specifically, there has been a move to centralise the process and “go digital”. The systems changes are not yet running smoothly. In addition to this, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in cases.
Until recently, we were unable to see what stage an application had reached on the online system and were advised by the Probate Registry that they were unable to provide case status information via email, webchat or telephone. The situation has now improved to some extent and we are able to see what stage an application has reached. Unfortunately, this has shown that a large number of applications are stalled in circumstances where we have not received any indication that there is a query or issue, or in situations where we have been informed of a query or issue and responded accordingly, but the system has not been updated and action taken.
Following discussions with the Probate Registry, it has been confirmed that the eight-week time frame for issuing of grants of probate relates to new applications where no problem has been identified. Our recent experience is that routine applications are now being processed within that eight-week time frame. However, where issues and queries are identified, applications follow a different process at the Probate Registry. We are told that due to systems problems, staff shortages and the pandemic, these applications for grants are moving extremely slowly. Applications are dealt with in strict date order, regardless of the circumstances and attempts by solicitors to expedite matters. In the circumstances, we are effectively unable to take steps to speed up the process even though we have dealt with issues and queries once these have been raised. The Probate Registry team dealing with non-routine applications is currently dealing with responses to queries that were raised as long as four months ago.
The problems that we are encountering with the Probate Registry are affecting lawyers and their clients nationwide, as reported in the article in the Law Society Gazette of 11 November 2020. You can read the article here.
At Graysons, we appreciate that these delays are frustrating for our executor clients and beneficiaries, but please be assured that we continue to take all steps within our power to expedite progress at the Probate Registry, notwithstanding the difficulties and procedural problems which we have outlined above. Where appropriate, we are submitting complaints in the hope that the Probate Registry will review its processes and deal with individual cases on their merits as required and within reasonable time frames.
In the meantime, we will progress estate administration as much as we are able to do that, in the absence of a grant of probate, and will collect in any assets we can where a grant is not required.
Author: Laura Cowan, senior private client advisor.