Bereaved people trying to unblock estates wait an average of six weeks to get probate, but using paper forms or making mistakes can lead to delays of up to six months, lawyers warn.
Applying for probate is an essential step in gaining control of an estate after someone dies, and the government states on its relevant webpage that it takes longer with a paper form than online.
Paper applications currently take about five to six months to be approved, based on feedback from members and the public at the Law Society.
However, a spokesperson for the HM Courts and Tribunals Service said: ‘Probate applications are processed in five weeks on average – almost a week faster than last year.
“We have hired more staff to meet increased demand and further reduce processing times.”
Learn more about the government approval process below.
Applying for probate: this is an essential step in taking control of an estate after someone dies
According to the national organization Solicitors for the Elderly, some cases that are “stopped” and sent to the back of the queue due to missing documents or errors in the application can also take up to 20 weeks.
Solicitors estimated the wait time for probate at six to nine weeks at the start of this year when the application fee was increased to £273 for estates worth more than £5,000. The fee is waived for estates worth £5,000 or less.
A few years ago, families faced long delays as the probate service was pressured to beat government plans to dramatically increase fees, which were later scrapped before being introduced.
This coincided with a radical overhaul involving staff reductions, office closures, new IT systems and changes to work processes.
Below, Lawyers for the Elderly President Michael Culver shares tips for making sure your probate application isn’t delayed, including having a lawyer review it for a flat fee before it’s filed. she is submissive.
Some cases may take up to 20 weeks if the application is stopped. This may be due to errors in the application or missing documents. Once a request is stopped, it goes to the bottom of the queue and new cases are prioritized
Michael Culver, president of Advocates for the Elderly
He also suggests that if you have to pay inheritance tax first, you should wait 25 days rather than the recommended 20 days before proceeding to apply for probate.
Culver explains that this is because the lack of response from HMRC is one of the main causes of the “stopping” of probate applications.
Probate times are decreasing, but people face significant wait times if their applications are stopped for some reason, he notes.
“Most probate applications now take an average of six weeks,” Culver says. “However, some cases can take up to 20 weeks if the application is stopped.
“This may be due to errors in the application or missing documents. Once a request is stopped, it goes to the bottom of the queue and new cases are prioritized.
“Long delays can be exhausting for grieving families who are already dealing with the distress of losing a loved one.
“We always recommend speaking with a legal professional, such as an SFE lawyer, who specializes in this area of law. They will be able to ensure that the application is carefully prepared and will strive to make the process as quick and easy as possible.
>> Read more tips from Culver below, including what getting a flat-fee exam involves before submitting an online probate application.
Emily Deane, Technical Adviser at the professional body STEP of Inheritance Professionals, says: ‘It is concerning that grieving families have to wait so long for probate to be granted.
“HM Courts and Tribunals has informed STEP that it is bringing in a significant number of qualified staff to deal with the backlog of probate applications, in addition to new staff to bolster its customer service capacity from the center of calls.
“We hope that this increase in resources will result in a noticeable improvement in delays and a reduction in the backlog of applications that is currently causing distress and frustration.”
STEP notes that HMCTS is urging people to apply for probate using the online service, saying users will receive the grant faster than if they used the traditional paper-based service.
A Law Society spokesperson said: ‘We have been aware of probate service delays for some time. The service must enable executors to settle the estate of a loved one within a reasonable time.
“Delays can negatively impact families and loved ones in what is already a difficult time as they come to terms with their loss and try to sort out the complex administration related to the death of a loved one.
“Our members and the public tell us that these delays appear to be primarily related to paper applications, which they believe take approximately five to six months to approve.
Emily Deane: HMCTS has informed STEP that it is bringing in a significant number of qualified staff to deal with the backlog of probate applications in addition to new staff to bolster its call center customer service capacity
“Our members are also frustrated with HMCTS’s lack of clarity on response times. They want HMCTS to give realistic deadlines to allow them to manage customer expectations.
What does the government say?
HMCTS has provided the following guidance on the type approval process at present.
– Our latest data shows that we are accelerating the granting of requests. It can be found here.
– Correctly completed applications, which do not need to be stopped due to an error or missing documentation, are processed within an average of three weeks.
– The quoted figure of 20 weeks needed to complete an application is misleading, as it includes stopped cases where the process is stalled while waiting for the applicant to resolve an error they have made, or where they have failed to send all the necessary documents (such as an inheritance tax form or an original will).
-We continue to have high volumes of post-Covid probate applications and with excess deaths above the five-year average through the end of this summer. Our goal is to try to reduce the wait time for paper applications which are more complex and take longer.
– As with any legal process, there will be instances where cases will take longer than others due to their complexity or the need for additional information from the claimant.
How to avoid probate delays
If you’re handling the probate process yourself, SFE President Michael Culver suggests the following tips for anticipating some of the common issues.
1. If in doubt, ask a member of the SFE to review your application before submitting it. Many of our members are happy to review and provide feedback on any required changes to an agreed fixed amount.
If you apply online, you can share your password and login information with your attorney, but they will usually email you a code. It is therefore preferable to do this in the same room if possible, or by telephone.
We recommend that you contact a lawyer for a fixed appointment at the office. We would ask someone to bring all their documents and log in to review the online application together before submitting the application.
Michael Culver: Long delays can be exhausting for grieving families already dealing with the distress of losing a loved one
In central London, you could pay around £300 for an hour-long flat-rate meeting to review the probate application online, but that’s assuming there’s no inheritance tax to pay.
If there are any inheritance tax forms to check it wouldn’t be a flat fee as it would probably take three to four hours of extra work and the total could be closer to £1000.
This will differ by region and by company.
2. If tax is payable, wait 25 working days from sending the inheritance tax documents to HMRC before applying for probate.
This is recommended even if HMRC has confirmed receipt of the documents in the meantime, to give them time to share the documents with the Revenue Service.
Lack of response from HMRC is one of the main causes for an application to stop.
3. Make sure all names match those in the will or explain why if there is a difference.
4. Explain why an executor is not applying for the grant, if applicable.
5. Ensure that all documents, including the original will, are included when sending documents to HMCTS.
6. If there is no will, be sure to explain why you are eligible to apply for the grant.
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