UK Probate Application Delays Stretch to 19 Weeks, Survey Reveals

Based on a study carried out recently by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC), around 70% of probate practitioners revealed that they’ve had to endure a wait of over 10 weeks for probate to be granted. A startling 57% amongst them also stated that the waiting period extended beyond 19 weeks.

Compared to data from May, the average wait period has increased noticeably. HMCTS data showed that the average wait between the time of submitting an application for probate and getting the grant issued was just over eight weeks.

The Backdrop to the Increase in Wait Times

To those within the industry, these findings seem predictable. Over the past couple of years, increasing delays have raised cries of alarm, with staff reductions and new system glitches notably being held responsible.

In fact, 60% of those surveyed expressed their concerns about the inability of the online probate service to handle challenging or technically complex cases. Apart from this, 53% reported that they can no longer connect with the HMCTS staff to acquire guidelines for intricate cases. Furthermore, about 62% don’t believe that HMCTS effectively communicates any ongoing changes to those in the profession.

The State of the Probate Market

The biennial survey aimed at assessing the existing state of the probate market rendered a few more noteworthy finds. Approximately 71% of the practitioners participating in the survey supported extending the current 12-month claim window for loss relief on share price falls for inheritance tax.

This sentiment is in tune with the increasing pressure on ministers as had been recently reported by Financial Times. An overwhelming consensus of 88% of survey participants demand that the banking sector should implement a standardised procedure to deal with probate. This standardisation mainly addresses the needs of law firms that require access to the deceased’s finances or assets during the estate administration.

The Impacts on Clients

It’s not just practising lawyers or those in the profession feeling the pinch. The clients are feeling it too. Almost half of the respondents revealed that as much as 25% of their clients had to resort to loans to cover inheritance tax bills.

Alarmingly, over a third of practitioners reported that up to half of their clients discover their executor appointment only after the will-writer has passsed away. This underscored the importance of full transparency at the point of writing the will about the responsibilities and expectations towards potential executors.

Words from the Director of Strategy at CLC

Stephen Ward, Director of Strategy at the Council for Licensed Conveyancers, acknowledges the challenges involved in dealing with a loved one’s probate affairs. The conditions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic have made this even more complex.

He emphasized, though, that despite long waiting times, the recently introduced online system does seem to manage straightforward cases efficiently. Ward expressed hope for future improvements to expedite the processing of more complex cases.