Civil service delays are causing huge disruption and emotional anguish to bereaved families trying to unlock estates.
After someone dies, a grant of probate is a vital step to gaining control over the deceased’s estate. Without it, families can be left unable to sell their loved one’s home, access their bank account to pay beneficiaries their inheritance or settle any outstanding debts.
HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) has been working with huge backlogs in processing probate applications since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. While delays are improving, executors can still expect a 10-week wait before they are issued their grant of probate.
According to the latest data from HMCTS, for the 22,072 grants of probate issued in February 2023, the average timeline from submission to grant was 10.6 weeks – a slight reduction from the 11 weeks recorded in January.
Private client partner Fiona Dodd said: “These lengthy delays are, rightly, causing huge frustration and anxiety for bereaved families who are having to pay the price as a result of faults within the system.
“They are being left in limbo as it is basically a waiting game – there is no shortcut or way to avoid the delays when applying for grant of probate. Despite these types of applications being daily bread and butter for probate practitioners, legal teams up and down the country are experiencing the same problem.
“Pre-Covid, if probate had not been granted, we would follow up with HMCTS after just 10 days. However, now, there is a 16-week purdah in place where we are unable to chase the registry to find out what is happening with an application.
“The onus is on the government to come up with a way to get through the backlog and speed up the current process. In the meantime, we recommend seeking legal assistance with the estate administration to ensure the application is carefully prepared, and completed and submitted correctly.
“Longer term, if clients are wanting to avoid problems in the future, we recommend they seek legal advice, have joint accounts, and make sure their pensions and insurance nominations are up to date.”