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Probate delays soar as ‘emotional toll intensifies’

Probate delays soar as ‘emotional toll intensifies’
Matt Browning
Written By:
Matt Browning

The number of people waiting over 12 months to be granted a probate has soared by 65% in three years, data finds.

It is the same increase in the number of cases taking just fewer than two years too, despite Quilter’s data only running for nine months of 2023.

Despite the waiting times, the cost of being granted probate, which confirms the authority to manage and distribute someone’s will, is set for a 10% price increase to £300 next month. This is the first price hike since the Ministry of Justice announced a single flat rate of £273 in 2022.

In most people’s cases, a probate is required to access bank accounts, property and investments. Only certain people can apply for a probate, and it depends on whether or not a will was made. If there’s not a will, the closest living relative can apply using a Government online service.

The Government claims that it should take no more than 16 weeks from the time of making an application to receive the legal authority.

Financial and emotional strain

However, the delays in the last year have led to financial strain due to the deceased person’s assets, homes left unable to sell and missed investment opportunities. Also, delays can prolong the length of time ongoing expenses like bills, insurance and mortgages are being overpaid.

As the executor awaits confirmation, there can also be emotional stress involved in the waiting process.

Shaun Moore, tax and financial planning expert at Quilter, says: “In the midst of grief, executors – often close kin or friends – face the added burden of navigating the probate maze. The increasing length of time it is taking HMCTS to grant probate will just add to the stress of the process.

“With probate wait times soaring, the emotional toll intensifies. Despite there being an increase in the number of people submitting their paperwork digitally, it is clear that HMCTS is struggling to keep up with the workload causing these longer wait times. This can have huge ramifications for a family.

“It is natural that more complex estates will take longer for probate to be granted, but the increases in wait times across the board are causes for concern.”

‘Never too soon to think about lifetime gifts’

Moore recommends having your estate as organised as possible if you are concerned about the huge administrative efforts after you pass away.

He added: “While it is impossible to predict how long you might live, it is never too soon to start thinking about making lifetime gifts. This not only removes an asset from your estate for probate purposes, but a gift made seven years prior to your passing may also help reduce any inheritance tax liability.

“Finally, engaging a financial adviser to help with your estate planning and getting a will in place can help make the process easier for both the executors and HMCTS.”

The Ministry of Justice has been contacted for comment.