As a probate lawyer I encounter my fair share of issues and delays when dealing with financial institutions and HMRC. However, I could always be certain that applying for a grant of probate would be a fairly painless and relatively swift process. Unfortunately, as many of you will have recently experienced, this is no longer the case.
HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) recently moved to a new case management system with the aim of improving the probate service, but training needs and technical issues has meant that the implementation of the new system has not been as smooth as hoped for. This new system could not have been introduced at a worst time, with probate registries experiencing a massive increase in probate applications as a result of the uncertainty around the proposed probate fee increases.
Currently the official line is that cases are taking up to 30 working days to be processed. On the ground I am finding that grants which once took 2-3 weeks to obtain are now taking 8-10 weeks. STEP has suggested to HMCTS that the operative date for any fee increase should be the date of death and not the date on which the application for the grant of probate is submitted. This would ease pressure on practitioners to submit applications to the probate registry and in turn would ease the pressure on the probate registry. It is yet to be seen whether HMCTS will adopt this suggestion.
These problems all come at a time when HMCTS has announced that it will be closing regional probate registries over the next 12 months with a view to the new digital probate system being managed centrally from its base in Birmingham.
Whether or not you agree with digital applications, they are here to stay. Lay executors can already submit a digital application and HMCTS is keen for more solicitors to sign up to its digital pilot. Stone King has already committed to the pilot and will shortly be going ‘online’. Fingers crossed this will help speed up application times for our clients and will give us the opportunity to feedback any concerns to HMCTS – so, watch this space.