Update on Probate Registry Delays

What has been the problem?

Since the spring there have been staggering delays in obtaining Grants of Representation due to backlogs at Probate Registries across England and Wales.

At the end of March 2019 a new IT system was introduced as part of an HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) court reform program.  Teething problems with the new system caused days’ worth of working time at the Probate Registries to be lost.

Around the same time, the volume of applications rose dramatically.  The main reason for this was because of a proposed hike in application fees, which was set to come into force from April 2019.  Lawyers and laypeople alike rushed to apply for probate while the fees were still relatively low.  The proposed fee hike was later abandoned, but the delays at the Probate Registry had already become an issue by that time.

By the summer it was widely reported by lawyers to be taking anywhere up to twelve weeks for Grants of Representation to be issued.  At the beginning of the year the same process would usually take less than two weeks.

Delays in obtaining the Grant of Representation in an estate mean that the administration is also put on hold for a time.  In some cases this can cause problems with the sale of estate assets and the payment of creditors.

What is the position now?

HMCTS have claimed in a meeting with the Law Society that Probate Registries are currently taking around four weeks to issue Grants of Representation, but that by Christmas the waiting times should be back to the usual two weeks.

It should be noted that HMCTS have been challenged by lawyers throughout the year for allegedly downplaying the amount of time it has been taking for Grants to be issued.  HMCTS also previously claimed that the system would be back to normal in November, but this did not happen.

It remains to be seen whether the system truly will return to normal by the end of the year.

If you would like to discuss the topic raised in this article any further please contact a member of the Wills, Probate and Trusts department.

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