Probate delays and the impact they have on families

26th February 2024

Dealing with the death of a family member can be extremely difficult and emotionally taxing. Everybody involved will, understandably, wish for the administration of their loved one’s estate to be dealt with as efficiently and smoothly as possible.

Current wait times at the probate registry are causing anguish and frustration as grieving families are forced to wait months for probate to be granted, delaying the relief and closure of finalising the administration of an estate.

What is a grant of representation and when is it required?

A grant of representation is a legal document which gives the personal representatives (executors or administrators) of a deceased person’s estate the legal authority to deal with their assets. If there is a will appointing executors, this is called a grant of probate.

When the deceased owned property or had other assets of value in their sole name, a grant of representation is required, and will often be requested by organisations to prove that those dealing with the estate have the requisite authority to do so.

What are the delays?

For online applications, there is an estimated 16-18 week wait from the time the application is submitted, to probate being granted.

In situations where the probate registry review an application and require further information, they will ‘stop’ the application and, the application will move to a separate queue for processing. When this happens, delays can be significantly longer than the 16-18 week estimated turnaround time.

Some applications for a grant of representation need to be made on paper, rather than online. For paper applications, wait times can be closer to 22 weeks, or even longer if the application is ‘stopped’ for any reason.

Impact of the delays

Until the grant of representation has been issued, assets cannot be distributed to the beneficiaries of the estate. This can be incredibly difficult, both emotionally and financially.

In addition, the personal representatives of the deceased’s estate may feel that they are unable to move on with their lives, causing them ongoing stress. They may come under increased pressure from the beneficiaries who feel as though they are being left in limbo.

The delays not only impact the personal representatives and beneficiaries; there are also practical issues caused by the delays. For example, if the personal representatives are having to wait to sell the deceased’s property, there are likely to be additional running and maintenance costs, such as property insurance and utility bills. Further, if the estate is subject to inheritance tax, and cash is not available to pay this until the property is sold, there will be alarming levels of interest accruing on the unpaid tax.

What you can do

  • Ensure you have a will and that this is kept up to date. This should mean that the probate application can be made online, resulting in shorter waiting times
  • If you are storing your will yourself, ensure that it is kept in good condition. Something as simple as a paperclip or staple mark may cause the probate registry to question whether the will is missing any parts and ‘stop’ the case, causing further delays
  • If you are the personal representative of an estate, seek advice from our qualified and experienced Private Client team. Whilst we cannot control the probate registry delays, we will use our expertise to get the application into the queue as efficiently as possible. We will also supply the probate registry with the required information without mistakes and pre-empt questions from the registry to avoid ‘stops’.

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