Applications for Grant of Probate – January 2021 update
Since the Government announced controversial increases to Probate Court fees back in 2018, the Probate service has undergone a series of major changes. Here we discuss these changes and their continuing impact on applications for Grant of Probate in 2021.
A Grant of Probate (“Probate”) gives you the legal right to deal with a person’s property, money, and other possessions after they have died, either because you are the appointed “executor” under the deceased’s Will, or where there is no Will as the person entitled to administer the estate under the rules of intestacy.
The proposed Probate Court fee increase received widespread criticism as essentially being a “stealth tax” and would have seen a potential maximum fee of £20,000 charged for large estates. Although this proposal was eventually scrapped in 2019, by that point the damage was done and an inevitable surge in applications in the preceding months led to delays of 12-16 weeks, a huge increase in application time, compared to the average wait of 2-3 weeks back in 2017.
Unfortunately, around the same time, the Probate service also underwent a drastic overhaul, with widespread restructuring of local Probate Courts, staff cuts and changes to IT systems.
Whilst some delays and problems remained, the Probate service was endeavouring to get back on track, only to be further hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic has understandably further increased the pressure on an already fragile system. It has also increased delays at HM Revenue and Customs, which in turn can then delay Probate. When a deceased person’s estate is subject to payment of Inheritance Tax (IHT) an Inland Revenue Account (IHT 400) must first be submitted to HM Revenue and Customs, together with payment of IHT due. HMRC has recently changed its own process regarding issue of a receipt for IHT paid and now sends this directly to the Probate Registry, rather than the applicant. HMRC Guidance issued in December 2020 requested that an applicant wait for a period of 20 working days from submission of their IHT 400, before submitting the application for Probate, essentially halting applications.
Further changes came towards the end of 2020, when the Probate Registry announced that they would be moving towards an online system. Online systems are preferable to many and can greatly improve the efficiency of a service. However, not everyone has access to the internet and the online Probate application service is still in its infancy. Understandably there have been some initial teething problems and dependent upon the individual circumstances of the deceased, not every Probate application is presently suitable for online submission.
The Probate Registry are reporting that waiting times are now averaging 6-8 weeks. Whilst that is an improvement on figures from last year, there is no doubt that the system will continue to struggle over the coming months, as deaths from Covid-19 sadly continue to rise and the new online process is tested.
It is notable that the Probate Service is clear that a seemingly minor error in relation to an application or a problem with the Will itself, such as a lack of date, can lead to further delays.
All of this has added to the confusion and stress of dealing with the Probate process when faced with the death of a loved one. Our specialist team has a wealth of experience in this area and will guide you through the process with expert advice and compassion.
If you wish to discuss the administration of an Estate or an application for Probate, please telephone 01743 248545 and ask to speak to one of the Probate Specialists in our Team.