Covid closures to probate offices ‘still causing delays’

Expert will dispute lawyers say delays in the issue of probate documents, which hit an all-time high in 2023, are causing more suffering for grieving people who are at serious risk of financial hardship.

Figures shared in May this year showed that the average wait time for a Grant of Probate (on applications that are not stopped) was 29.3 weeks, this is a slight decrease from the same figures recorded in February (30.6 weeks), but this is still significantly higher than the average wait time in February 2022 (22.5 weeks).

The main reason for the backlog is due to a number of the regional probate offices around being closed down during the pandemic which have not reopened.

Danni Brannon, a probate solicitor at Irwin Mitchell, said:

“We have seen an increase in disputes as a result of the delays. Beneficiaries are questioning those appointed to administer the estate and why it is taking them so long to obtain a grant from the probate registry. They are challenging whether the personal representatives are fit to act (despite the delay being beyond their control). This is causing the estate to incur costs as the personal representatives mostly have to incur costs in responding to any allegations of delay. This is ultimately reducing the amount of the inheritance that the beneficiaries stand to receive.

The delay in the distribution of estates is causing beneficiaries in financial hardship who are expecting an inheritance to suffer even more. This is meaning that they are investigating bringing claims against the estate in order to ascertain whether there are ways they can get more money from the deceased.”

Estate properties cannot be sold until probate has been granted and the expert will dispute team at Irwin Mitchell say this has led to a large number of buyers withdrawing from purchases and the accompanying anxiety that this brings.

Often there are then related costs from aborted sales and increased costs from legal teams chasing the probate registry for updates on progress.

Brannon added:

“Numerous issues can also arise when a property lays empty, squatting and trespassing being a huge problem for empty properties across the country. Additionally, there is the risk of vermin and pests occupying the house, attracted by the mess left behind. These pests can not only be a nightmare to exterminate, but they can destroy a house internally through time. Empty properties can also quickly become run down and decrepit, becoming an eye sore for the street, which is  unpleasant for surrounding neighbours and can also drive the prices of nearby properties down.

This is causing beneficiaries to argue about the value of the estate property either between themselves or against the administers. Beneficiaries may pursue personal representatives for any potential loss to the estate due to the loss in value of the property and/or investigate any claims they can bring against the estate to obtain further inheritance.”

2 Responses

  1. It’s not just property that’s losing value during the delays – as interest rates rise, the value of shares falls, and loss relief on shares is only available in the year after the deceased dies.
    Delays by HMRC are even worse than those caused by the Probate Registry, though, in my experience.

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