Probate solicitors experiencing 'shocking delays' and bureaucracy
By Nicola Laver
Probate solicitors are experiencing 'shocking delays' and increasingly frustrated by an inefficient process, according to research
Probate solicitors are experiencing “shocking delays” and are increasingly frustrated by an inefficient process, according to recent research.
A survey of 53 probate solicitors across the UK, carried out in September by property selling organisation Movewise, found that 87 per cent of them singled out inefficiency and hold-ups by government bodies as a major frustration.
Such delays caused by government bodies – particularly the Probate Registry – had at least a “moderately significant impact” on the work of 87 per cent of solicitors; and 63 per cent said they were affected by errors by government bodies.
The head of probate at one leading firm reportedly described delays in the probate process as “shocking” and added that “grant of probate used to take four weeks… now it takes four months”.
Another solicitor said: “We’ve had to send cases back at least once, possibly twice because they’ve put incorrect details on the grant of probate.”
A priority for 80 per cent of those surveyed was “achieving maximum value for the estate”; and 75 per cent said completing the probate process quickly was important or very important.
The respondents to the survey found government red tape more of a problem that any challenges relating to property sales.
Matthew Duncan, private client partner at Druces, said the research mirrors his own experience and that of his colleagues over the last year with increasing delays in obtaining grants of probate.
He explained: “First we were hit with probate registries closing and adopting a new probate system at the beginning of the year, which instead of improving the service solicitors received, it got worse.
“Then covid-19 struck and staff at the registries, like the rest of the country, were working from home.
“This meant tracking an application or speaking to anyone who could tell you how your application was progressing became impossible.”
The helpline was, he said, particularly frustrating because it would stop ringing if not answered after a short number of rings; then a short, automated message would say there was no one available to assist.
“The line would then go dead, leaving you none the wiser”, he added.
The delays have had a significant impact on some estates.
As Duncan explained: “Probate sales of properties have been lost due to buyers going elsewhere, who have not been prepared to wait for probate to be issued.
“Bereaved beneficiaries have seen their inheritance dwindle before their eyes in estates where a deceased held investments which, following the death, has been at the mercy of a falling stock market.”
Executors have also been unable to do anything, he added, as investments cannot be sold without probate.
“Executors have increasingly become frustrated”, said Duncan, “and have vented that frustration at their lawyers for the delays which are beyond their control.
“Often, the only way of being certain your application for probate has been looked at, is when you can see the probate application fee has been cashed by HMCTS.
“Solicitors are now being forced to use an online application system for probate and the fear is rather than improving the situation, this will only add to more delays as inevitably there will be teething problems with the new system”.
Movewise founder Tom Scarborough said some areas of probate could be outsourced to “support and speed up elements of the process”.
But probate solicitors responding to the survey felt the challenges could be overcome by greater efficiencies at the Probate Registry, including a better online probate system.