12 June 2019
When dealing with someone’s affairs after their death it is often necessary to obtain a grant of Probate. This document gives the executors the power to deal with other than low-value assets such as property, bank accounts and share portfolios.
We are currently experiencing significant delays in the processing of applications for grants. Some Probate Registries are taking over six weeks to issue a grant of Probate which would usually be expected back within two to three weeks.
The delay has been caused by several issues:
Proposed Probate Fee Increase
The fee to apply for a grant of Probate is currently fixed at £215 (or £155 if the application is made by solicitors). The government has proposed a significant increase in the fee, which was expected to be introduced in April. The fee would depend on the total value of the estate with the highest fee being £6,000 for estates worth more than £2,000,000, a big jump from the current £155.
The fees have still not been introduced and we have not been given any guidance about when they may come into force. However, there has been a surge of applications (including where information is incomplete) to preempt the fee increase. This has led to a significantly increased workload for the Probate Registries.
Change in Structure and Systems of Probate Registries
There are numerous main Probate Registries along with sub-registries. If a registry experiences a sudden spike in workload, they can send applications to other registries for assistance. It has been announced that as of next year all Probate Registries will be centralised into Birmingham and most other registries will be closing. This has led to redundancies amongst the Probate Registry workforce and, as a result, a decrease in morale, a loss of staff and a delay in processing applications.
In addition, the Probate Registries have introduced a new style of grant along with a new online application system with the intention of making it easier for individuals to apply for a grant themselves rather than using a solicitor. The Law Society Gazette has reported IT and printing problems which have inevitably caused further delay.
Re-deployment of Staff at HMRC
The need for any correspondence with HMRC during the probate process often prolongs matters. The staff have a huge workload and have over the years experienced cuts in their workforce which are expected to continue.
In the last few years HMRC’s workload has apparently increased markedly due to Brexit- related tax enquiries. Staff members have been siphoned off from the general workforce to form separate teams responsible for drafting any new legislation that may be necessary in the light of Brexit. One of the results of this is a reduction in the number of employees available to deal with inheritance tax matters.