How delays in applying for probate might affect you

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After someone has died a Grant of Representation (“a Grant”) may be required in situations such as when there is inheritance tax to pay or when an asset requires a Grant to be obtained in order to be dealt with (e.g. if a bank or investment company ask for one).  A Grant is a legal document which names an individual or individuals as those who are legally entitled to administer an Estate, usually because they are named as an Executor in a Will or because they are entitled to apply as a relative where no Will has been made.

Applying for a Grant has in recent times become cause for lengthy delay. This was exacerbated earlier this year when the government proposed a dramatic increase in probate court fees.  Although this was later dropped, there is still a backlog of applications at HMRC and the Probate Registry.

What does the probate backlog mean in real terms?

It used to take on average up to 10 working days for legal professionals to obtain a Grant in non-taxable estates, but this has stretched to 6-8 weeks and in some cases even longer. The Probate Registry reported to the Law Society that in September 2019 they received between 700-800 probate applications daily. They now report issuing around 7000 applications a week and have processed 98,000 applications since March 2019.

How is this being alleviated?

The Probate Registry has issued reassurance that the backlog is being worked through.

New style Grants and a new internal computer system, which initially caused delays, is now up and running and solicitors can now make applications online, though they still need to post hard copy documents.

Disruption to the flow of communication has been a sticking point. It is almost impossible to speak to a local Probate Registry unless by email. Birmingham Probate Registry have now introduced a dedicated phone line (live as of 4th November) for updates on all probate applications with the hope of reducing the time spent on individual cases.

Resources in the Probate court system have been generally increased, but there’s still a backlog at HMRC where estates are taxable.

Problems still exist when property needs to be sold

Whilst steps are being made to return the service to the standard before the proposed fee increase, there’s still a backlog where a property needs to be sold. Prospective purchasers need to be aware of this as it will impact their purchase time frame.

The tax implications of a delay in your probate

The Telegraph has reported that a fifth of taxable estates are paying interest on inheritance tax payments due to delays, but it’s not clear precisely why this is. There could be a number of factors including the district valuer disagreeing with the property price; individuals waiting for the inheritance tax papers to be returned before making a payment; or incorrect calculation of the tax in the first place.

Help is at hand

We can advise and steer you through the delays and their implications. Our probate and tax specialists are well versed in dealing with the issues raised. Please call or email Jade Paine on 01273 384 041, to talk through your particular concerns.

Author: Jade Paine, Associate Solicitor