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Update on probate delays

HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has announced significant delays in issuing grants of probate.

probate delays

Laura Cowan, head of Graysons’ private client team

Situation January 2022 – January 2023

There have been huge backlogs in processing probate applications since the beginning of COVID-19, and the delays are getting worse. HMCTS has published data showing that, whilst it received 26,464 probate applications in the year January 2022 to January 2023, it only issued 19,834 grants.

It said that during this time, the average time taken to process an online application was 8.4 weeks and that for postal applications, the average time was 20.3 weeks.  85% of applications were made online.

Current situation

When an application is made online, we sometimes get an acknowledgment of receipt from the Probate Registry within a few days.  However, for postal applications, this can be up to two months.  Irrespective of how the application is made, we cannot contact the Probate Registry for an update until 16 weeks after the application is acknowledged.  That is double the previous timeframe for online applications. For complex estates, for example where there is inheritance tax (IHT) to pay, it was previously possible to complete the probate process within 12 weeks of application – note that a probate application can only be made 20 working days after submitting the necessary IHT forms. That has now increased to a minimum of 16 weeks.   Timeframes are increased even further when applications are stopped for any reason, such as requiring extra information.

How can the delays affect you?

These delays can have an adverse effect on the amount beneficiaries receive as, where IHT is due, it becomes payable six months after the end of the month of death.  If it is not paid then, interest will accrue, reducing the value of the estate distributable to beneficiaries. The delays can also cause issues when property and shares etc. might need to be sold where their value can change during the long wait for probate, or buyers can pull out if they are not willing to wait.

The value of an estate is established upon death and where shares are concerned, IHT loss relief can be claimed when the shares are sold within 12 months of the death.  However, shares can only be sold once probate has been granted, so these long delays can have a significant impact.

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

“We understand that these delays are distressing for clients.  We can assure you that we are routinely chasing all applications for grants that have been outstanding for more than 16 weeks.  We have been told by the Probate Registry that, so that its staff can concentrate on the backlog, updates will not be provided on individual applications submitted before this point.  We will provide any updates to clients accordingly.”

Author: Laura Cowan

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