The House of Commons Justice Select Committee has launched an inquiry into probate – the legal process of obtaining a Grant of Representation (Probate or Letters of Administration) to a deceased’s person’s estate. This investigation comes amid growing concerns about delays in processing grant applications and the need for more assistance to be provided to executors, beneficiaries and the bereaved.
Since 2020 a centralised on-line grant application process has been rolled out to replace the local Probate Registries. The local Registry system, with their experienced staff, often meant grants were received within two weeks of application - sometimes sooner. Halcyon days!
The new system whilst clunky does though have advantages: the formalities around the signing of the application papers are now much more relaxed (no trekking to other solicitor’s offices to swear oaths) and there is efficient transfer of information on-line.
However, obtaining this all important document has become an increasingly lengthy and frustrating process, with the average waiting time for grants having nearly doubled in the past year and reports of some cases taking nearly a year! Such delays have a significant emotional impact on families and financial implications for beneficiaries with common issues including:-
- losing agreed property sales
- suffering interest on any outstanding IHT, which at a current rate of 7.75% is the highest level since 1992
- losing out on potential IHT loss on sale claims for investments
- increased administration costs
Complex applications (which seem to include anything relating to a non-UK domiciled deceased) seem to fair particularly badly and one can only sense that this due wholly to a lack of experienced staff.
The inquiry will delve into the root causes of these delays, examining capacity, resources, and fees charged. They will also consider the extent to which changes to the technology could be used to improve the process.
The Committee is also looking into the consequences of the delays, some of which are noted above, and want to understand the position from the perspective of the bereaved and those involved in the administration process. If you wish to assist the Committee with this, then you can do so via a written submission before the 22 January 2024 deadline.
The waiting time for probate almost doubled from April 2022 to April 2023, with reports citing cases of probate taking more than eleven months and practitioners advising clients that probate will take at least nine months.