Probate delays

Obtaining probate is taking longer owing to delays at probate registries.  The time was that Government guidance on probate said that it would usually be granted within four weeks of submitting the necessary documentation. Now, if you visit the relevant webpage on gov.uk, the period mentioned is eight weeks.

In May, the slowdown in the process prompted the Law Society to complain to HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) about the “ongoing delays to the probate service”. HMCTS offered up an assortment of excuses in response, from “technical issues across…probate infrastructure” to a “new case data management system”. HMCTS also acknowledged that their political masters had added to workload pressures by announcing a future increase in probate fees (see our earlier Bulletin). Following HMRC agreement that probate registries could accept applications without accompanying inheritance tax (IHT) forms (see our Bulletin of 1 April) the inevitable result was an increase in applications and queries.

A chase up meeting was held in June at which HMCTS requested that they only be contacted when delays exceeded eight weeks. The meeting also produced confirmation that “HMRC would not be able to apply a ‘credit’ or write off any interest that is due in relation to IHT payments”. IHT is due by the end of the sixth month after the month in which the person died (eg 31 July a for a death in January).

At the start of August the Law Society announced another meeting with HMCTS in September to review matters. Simultaneously the Law Society asked for examples of delays of over six weeks. By coincidence we know of one case involving an estate worth approximately £420,000, with no IHT liability thanks to the residence nil rate band, that took over ten weeks to receive the grant of probate.

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