It is well known amongst probate practitioners that the Probate Registry seems constantly to be overloaded with work, often causing long delays to the process. The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation, putting even more pressure on the system and the courts in general.
This has a knock-on effect on other matters such as house sales – the sale of a property which is in the deceased’s name cannot be completed until the Grant of Probate has been issued in the names of the personal representatives.
In turn, this means that practitioners have to ensure that probate applications are prepared as early as possible to avoid any agreed house sales falling through due to the delays, especially if they will need to report to HMRC first with an account of the inheritance tax due which adds on an extra four weeks or so to the whole process.
The Probate Registry has, in the last year, introduced an online platform for probate applications. This has experienced various teething problems with logins etc, as is often the case with new systems. It has also proved confusing, because not all applications can yet be submitted online, so there is a different procedure for some types of application such as intestacies.
The list of application types which must be made online and those which must be made by post is regularly updated, as they add more facilities to the online platform, making it necessary to check the up to date list regularly to ensure the wrong type of application is not made. This is causing delays too, since it would take the Probate Registry some weeks to process the paperwork around notifying an applicant, on receipt of a paper application through the post, for example, that it should in fact have been made online.
The online platform will be updated on 19 August, enabling applications made by Trust Corporations to be made online – the update may cause some difficulties with existing applications saved in draft form on the system, so practitioners should plan to submit ahead of this date.
Alongside the changes to the application procedures, there are also proposed changes to the probate application fees in order to allow the government to raise approximately £25m. These will be finalised by 23 September, but the intention is that all applications will incur a flat fee of £273, an increase from the current fee of £155 for professionals and £215 for individuals. The government has emphasised that the fees will go towards the costs of processing applications.
Once all applications can be made online and the initial technical problems have been put right, it is expected that the online procedure will reduce delays and generally provide a more streamlined and consistent service for all applicants.