Courts and Tribunals Service promises delays to be cleared by Christmas

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The Law Society of England and Wales has met with HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) to discuss the continued delays to the grants of probate process.

Following the installation of new software in early 2019, solicitors had reported delays of more than three months. This was further compounded by people attempting to get ahead of the proposed probate fees hike, which was supposed to be implemented in April.

HMCTS missed the November deadline and, in the meeting, it reported that grants of probate are currently taking about four weeks to process. However, HMCTS expects this to reduce to two weeks by Christmas and it is working to clear stopped applications which are blocking the system. HMCTS report that some 450 firms have now signed up to the online system.

New centralised centre in Birmingham

HMCTS said solicitors and lay people should no longer contact local registries with probate queries. A new  centralised system, administered by to the Birmingham Courts and Tribunal Service Centre, is dealing will all related enquiries. It is open from 8am-8pm Monday to Friday, and from 8am-12pm on Saturdays.

Other plans include an online probate application in Welsh in 2020, and measures to deal with bilingual Welsh/English grants of probate.

What is a grant of probate?

A grant of probate is a legal document that allows an executor to administer the estate of a person who has died. This includes distributing their assets to their rightful beneficiaries. To deal with a deceased person’s bank accounts, legal authority to act is required, such as the grant of probate.

If an estate is worth less than £10,000, then a grant of probate is not needed. Nor is it necessary if someone owned everything jointly with another person, as the ownership transfers to that person.

To apply for a grant of probate, the death needs to be registered first. In England and Wales this must be done within five days. In Scotland, it is eight days. The estate is then valued, including a property valuation. Probate fees are waived if an estate is worth less than £5,000.

Charities missing out due to probate delays

According to an article on the Mail Online, charities have also been denied donations worth £185 million due to issues in the probate system.

Families and solicitors have reported waiting more than 14 weeks to administer probate and distribute estates to the rightful beneficiaries—a process that should not usually take more than a month.

The article states that the delay has forced some of the country’s largest charities to make cutbacks because they haven’t received expected legacies. Third Sector News reported a surge in legacy campaigns by charities seeking donations in Wills in recent years.