HM Courts and Tribunal Service

Court queues leave bereaved families in ‘limbo’, lawyer warns

New research has revealed that civil service delays are causing huge disruption and emotional anguish to bereaved families trying to unlock estates, according to a private client solicitor at law firm Mayo Wynne Baxter.

HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) has been working with huge backlogs in processing probate applications since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. While delays are improving, executors can still expect a 10-week wait before they are issued their grant of probate, according to the latest data.

Fiona Dodd, private client partner at Mayo Wynne Baxter, has warned that the queues at the courts have left buyers walking out on house sales and investments losing value in an already volatile market, which is having a negative impact on grieving families.

She said:

“These delays are, rightly, causing huge frustration and anxiety for bereaved families who are having to pay the price as a result of faults within the system.

In the past few months, we’ve seen clients losing out on property sales as buyers have been unwilling to put up with the long wait times for a grant of probate to be issued, which is needed before a transaction can proceed. In a couple of cases, I have had to ask for an emergency application to save the sale of a large number of plots of land.

Due to stock market volatility arising from the war in Ukraine, we’ve also seen a deceased’s investment portfolio significantly lose value as executors have had to wait for the grant to be issued before being able to sell the shares.

These lengthy delays are exhausting for grieving families, who are already going through a difficult time dealing with their loss and trying to sort out the complex admin related to the death of a loved one. They are being left in limbo.”

According to the latest data from HMCTS, for the 22,072 grants of probate issued in February 2023, the average timeline from submission to grant was 10.6 weeks – a slight reduction from the 11 weeks recorded in January.

Fiona said:

“It is basically a waiting game – there is no shortcut or way to avoid the delays when applying for grant of probate. Despite these types of applications being daily bread and butter for probate practitioners, legal teams up and down the country are experiencing the same problem.

Pre-Covid, if probate had not been granted, we would follow up with HMCTS after just 10 days. However, now, there is a 16-week purdah in place where we are unable to chase the registry to find out what is happening with an application.

The onus is on the government to come up with a way to get through the backlog and speed up the current process. In the meantime, we recommend seeking legal assistance with the estate administration to ensure the application is carefully prepared, and completed and submitted correctly.

Longer term, if clients are wanting to avoid problems in the future, we recommend they seek legal advice, have joint accounts, and make sure their pensions and insurance nominations are up to date.”

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