Probate delays: what to expect

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Bereaved families have been experiencing long wait times before being granted probate, thanks to delays in the probate system that seem to have peaked in recent months.

In this blog, our probate and estate administration solicitors look at why these delays are so long and what you can expect when applying for probate in 2024.

How does probate work?

Probate is the legal process of administering a deceased person’s estate (property, assets and finances).

Before the executors can distribute the deceased’s estate, they can obtain a Grant of Probate, which confirms whether the Will is valid and who can administer the estate.

If there is no Will, you need to apply for Letters of Administration which permits the administrator of the estate (the most ‘entitled’ person will need to apply for this, e.g. spouse or grown-up children) to deal with the deceased’s assets.

To obtain a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration, you must apply to the Probate Registry.

How long does it take to get a Grant of Probate?

According to the GOV.UK website, it can take up to 16 weeks to get a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration. However, some people report waiting twice that long in 2024 and waiting times almost doubled between April 2022 and April 2023; something our probate solicitors can attest to. In some cases, clients have waited almost a year to obtain the grant of probate.

Why is probate so delayed?

Many people have attributed the delays in probate to the Covid-19 pandemic, which sadly saw an unprecedented increase in deaths.

In reality, it is believed that the primary cause of delays is the closure of local probate offices and centralisation of probate registries. There was also a move to a digitised service (which is beneficial in the long run but has clearly caused disruption during the process) and a reduction in staff numbers. In a STEP (The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners) survey from January 2024, it was reported that 61% of applications were delayed because of a lack of senior staff to review them.

How can you prepare for probate delays?

The Probate Registry has reportedly amended its internal processes and hopes to see delays in obtaining probate reduced in 2024. Until then, it is sensible to err on the side of caution and expect probate to take months, rather than weeks.

There are things you can do to ensure the application goes through as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Applications often get held up due to a lack of correct documentation, including an incorrect Inheritance Tax return or an incomplete or invalid Will.

Instructing a professional probate solicitor to manage the estate administration process on your behalf, including applying for a Grant of Probate, reduces the risk of documentation being incorrect and thus probate being delayed. Having a legal expert on hand also takes some of the stress out of the process; something that cannot be underestimated after losing a loved one.

How does delayed probate affect estate administration?

Aside from increasing frustration from executors trying to administer their loved one’s estate, the delays in probate have had a significant impact on the charities that benefit from donations in people’s Wills. Cancer Research UK recently reported that they have been unable to invest in projects due to probate delays. 40% of the charity’s overall income is from probate funding and it is estimated that £30m is tied up in the probate backlog.

Some people attempt to apply for probate themselves (rather than instructing a solicitor) in the hope that it speeds the process up, however, this is not necessarily the case. In fact, having a legal professional review your documents and manage the estate administration process can reduce the risk of delay due to incorrect documentation. Plus, your solicitor can regularly check progress with the Probate Registry on your behalf.

Contact our probate and estate administration solicitors

If you have lost a loved one and are looking for an experienced solicitor to manage the estate administration process on your behalf, including applying for probate, we can help.

Call our friendly team on 0117 325 2929 or fill out this form and we will be in touch.


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