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The probate registry – is no news really good news? The probate registry – is no news really good news?

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Mar 24

The probate registry – is no news really good news?

Written by Jessica Toller

DDI: 01423 726606
E: jessica.toller@raworths.co.uk

As the old adage goes, “no news is good news”; however can this really be said for waiting for news from the new digitised and centralised Probate Registry?

Five years ago, you would send an application for a grant of probate (or grant of letters of administration) to one of the many regional district probate registries and receive the grant within two weeks. Following drastic changes to the probate registry (intended to bring the probate service in line with other courts in England and Wales) the system was changed to digitalise and centralise the system. What this meant was that all the district and sub district probate registries were closed and one new centralised office was opened, responsible for handling the vast majority of probate applications from all of England and Wales.

This, coupled with the new digital system (and the registry running out of paper on one occasion!) has meant that for the last four years, obtaining grants of probate has been a struggle, which of course wasn’t helped by the Covid pandemic.

As discussed on BBC Radio 4 recently, the latest figures have shown that the whole process is taking twice as long as it used to, however if you ask any solicitor specialising in Wills and Probate, they will tell you that it is currently taking months to obtain grants. From this office alone, we have experienced the following examples of delays:

  1. Chasing for a grant in February to be told that they were waiting for a response to an email sent on 28th December. When informed the email had been responded to on 2nd January, they proceeded to action and issue the grant the same day, with no apology for simply missing the email;
  2. Over a course of 7 months, speaking to 9 different people at the probate registry to be told that they didn’t know why an application wasn’t proceeding to then be told by the 10th person that they were waiting for documents which they had never requested.

This is not to say that we have not had cases where had grants have been returned quickly. Indeed, there have been instances when we have received grants within 5 weeks however this is very much the exception to the trend. We are not seeing any reason why some grants are returned more quickly than others; it doesn’t appear to be based on the complexity of the application, more so on who picks up the application at the probate registry. If an application is picked up but then there is something slightly different or unusual about it, it appears to be put back down and “stopped”. It is only picked back up by someone when we are allowed to chase it. For reference, we are not permitted to speak to the probate registry about any application until it has been 18 weeks since it was submitted.

Reasons for stopping the application have included:

  1. The Will being scanned in (by the probate registry) one sided when it is a two sided document. This is particularly concerning because part of the process of obtaining the grant was always to check the physical condition of the Will to see if it has been tampered with. If the Wills are being scanned onto a system, are they being properly checked?
  2. The Probate Registry thought a specific IHT form was required when it was not. Again, the process was stopped and it only moved forwards when we advised them that it was not required.

During these delays you can’t administer the estate; you can’t sell property, you can’t collect in the estate, things are simply placed on hold.

As one executor told Radio 4’s programme, her father’s estate was severely reduced due to probate delays as there was an equity release mortgage on the property which charged a daily rate of interest. Due to the delays in obtaining probate, they couldn’t sell the property and repay the mortgage for months, therefore incurring significant interest charges. This is only one of the many scenarios where the delay can cause significant problems.

It is clear that no news doesn’t mean good news, it means we have to wait and hope. Hope that the delays won’t cause any further distress or financial stress on clients and hope that the backlog at the Probate Registry will one day be clear.

Whilst there are some things we can’t control, taking professional advice on the probate process is something you can control. With careful planning and the appropriate expertise, we can help guide you through the process and reduce your burden.  Please contact our specialist Trusts, Wills and Estates team on 01423 566666 if you need any help.  Jessica Toller is an Associate in the Trusts, Wills and Estates team based in Harrogate, North Yorkshire.

Published on 28 March 2024

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