Probate Chaos

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The botched implementation of an increase in Probate fees, combined with changes to the process and Probate Registry closures, has led to huge delays in Executors being able to obtain a Grant of Probate. With therefore delays in administering Estates.

What is a Grant of Probate?

A Grant of Probate is the legal authority an Executor appointed under a Will requires, in order to collect in a deceased person’s assets. To then distribute those to the correct beneficiaries in accordance with the Will. Where there is no Will, or the original Executors appointed cannot act, a Grant of Letters of Administration will be required. With the legal process being similar, regardless of which form of Grant is to be obtained.

Once information about the deceased’s assets and liabilities has been obtained, and any Inheritance Tax due has been paid, an application can then be made to a regional Probate Registry for a Grant to be issued.

Stealth Tax through increased fees

The Government announced last year that there was to be a steep increase in the Court fee charged to obtain a Grant. Currently, the fees are £155 if the application is made through a solicitor. And £215 if made by an individual. The proposed new fees will be on a sliding scale, linked to the value of the estate. They are set to range up to £6,000 for the highest value estates.

After initial uproar, with opposition parties indicating they would oppose the changes, and lack of parliamentary time, the proposals were put on hold.

The government reintroduced the proposals again this year and indicated an implementation date of 1st April. This resulted in a huge rush to get applications for a Grant to the various regional Probate Registries before the 1st April deadline. As it turns out, the Bill was not implemented. It is not entirely clear when it will but it remains firmly on the Government’s agenda.

The end result?

Currently the situation can only be described as chaotic. Whereas a Grant could usually expect to be received within 2-3 weeks, applications are now outstanding for 2-3 months. The Probate Registries do not acknowledge receipt of applications. With only the confirmation that it is being dealt with, usually evidenced by the Grant arriving in the Post.

While the Probate Registries say to make them aware if there is a need for urgency in issuing the Grant. Even these so called “expedited applications” are taking many weeks. Add to that, there appears to be major delays in post even being logged in. It is nigh on impossible to get anyone to answer the telephone at the Registries and it is clear the system is buckling under the strain.

Why is this important?

A Grant is the legal authority required to carry out many of the Executor’s functions. Many property sales require a Grant to complete, and the delay is causing many Executors to lose buyers and incur additional costs. They also have to deal with frustrated beneficiaries who are waiting for an inheritance. Which feels as though it may never arrive, due to Executors being unable to access funds held in bank accounts, investments etc.

Any sign of improvement?

In a word. No! It remains to be seen whether the fee increases will be reintroduced and this probably depends largely on who is in Government. If the fee increases are brought back before parliament, causing another rush to get applications in, it is perfectly foreseeable that the current situation and backlog will arise again. Probably just as the situation is improving!

In addition to the above, there are other changes threatening to dramatically affect the Probate system. A new type of Grant (electronically signed with no Will attached) have recently been introduced. With reported issues with paper supply further adding to delays.

It has also recently been announced that regional Probate Registries are to close imminently, in order to cut costs. With no clear plan as to how the applications are going to be dealt with moving forward. There is also real concern in the legal profession that well-trained staff and experts will be lost as part of the process. Giving rise to potential mistakes and potentially vital legal processes and issues being missed. Leading to increased fraud and tax evasion.

Next steps

If you need a Grant of Representation, particularly if a property sale is pending, you should take urgent advice on obtaining the Grant to ensure matters are put in hand as quickly as possible.

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Please note that this article does not constitute legal advice and only provides a brief overview of certain issues. You should always speak to a legal professional to discuss your circumstances and consider your options.