Coronavirus affect on Probate and Probate registry delays

A lot of industries have been affected this year and that includes the probate industry. Probate is the process of obtaining a grant of probate from the Probate registry to access the assets of a person who has passed away. Probate has never been a quick process but with this year’s lockdown restrictions, changes to processing procedures and increased death rate, the probate registries have been struggling to meet demand.

How long is probate currently taking?

The probate registry is reporting a wait time of up to 8 weeks, however many are waiting up to 12 weeks, sometimes longer. There are some that have received grants within 10-14 days, but these are few and far between.

Why is probate taking so long? What is the reason for the delays?

Probate delays from 2019

The probate registries had already seen delays in 2019 after the government proposed a hike to probate application fees. The proposal was to increase the cost of the grant from £215 to a band system based on the value of the estate, meaning some estates could have been charged up to £5,000 for a grant to be issued.

This resulted in an influx of applications before the April 2019 deadline. Ultimately, this change was not made but it left the probate registries struggling to get through the increased workflow, combined with changes to the registries computer software and the closing of some registries, it resulted in processing times increasing from 2 weeks to between 9-10 weeks.

At the beginning of this year, the registries seemed to have gotten through a lot of the backlog and issuing times had dropped down to between 3 – 4 weeks. However, it still was not as quick as it was prior to the proposal to increase the application fee.

Therefore, when the COVID crisis began the registry was nearing the end of the 2019 backlog. When the number of applications for probate started to increase again, there were a new load of issues to combat, resulting in the probate registries being overloaded once again.

Lockdown Restrictions

Offices were closed and staff were decreased and sent to work from home. Probate is a heavily paper-based process and although there has been a lot of movement in getting the process online, which was part of what contributed to delays in 2019, the registries just weren’t prepared to so suddenly need to accommodate workplace social distancing or remote working. This caused some initial delays during the first lockdown in March 2020.

Executors access to information

Due to business closures and travel restrictions, executors are finding it difficult to get access to the information they required to complete the inheritance tax and probate applications. This has resulted in executors not being able to make applications as quickly as they would under normal circumstances.

It seems to also have contributed to incorrect information being provided on the probate applications or incomplete applications being made. This results in a back and forth between the probate registries and executors to make the corrections which then increases the processing time.

Surge in applications

When the country started to reopen again the missing information could be collected. At this point, the countries death rate had also increased meaning more estates requiring probate. This resulted in a surge of applications when lockdown began to lift in May. The probate registries were already struggling with the changes to the process and staff working from home so the surge in applications overwhelmed the registries.

Advice relating to delays

Probate registry staff are struggling to handle the volume of calls and getting updates from the probate registries has become increasingly difficult for applicants.

It has been advised that only executors or their legal representatives should be contacting the probate registries to elevate the amount of enquires they are receiving.

Executors are also being asked not to chase applications within 8 weeks, as this will distract registry staff from processing applications and slow the process down.

There is also advice to executors selling properties subject to probate to make sure potential property buyers are aware of the delays and manage their expectations as pressure to exchange may lose a sale.

Final duties customers can be assured that we take steps to minimize delays and ensure we have the correct information needed to make an application.  Getting the application right in the first place is the most effective way to speed up probate and minimize requests from the probate registry for further information and declined applications.

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