Probate delays hit national press

The national spotlight has recently been cast on the persistent probate delays, garnering attention from major media outlets such as The Times.

The story in The Times sheds light on Zoe Shipley’s distressing ordeal with probate delays, as she faced a year-long struggle to settle her grandmother’s estate due to bureaucratic inefficiencies at HM Courts & Tribunals Service. Despite government guidelines suggesting a maximum wait of 16 weeks, Shipley endured seven months of uncertainty, grappling with excuses and delays that exacerbated her grief over losing both her grandmother and aunt within the same year.

Shipley’s experience highlights systemic issues within the probate process, where families endure prolonged waits, financial burdens, and emotional strain. The story underscores the need for reforms to streamline probate procedures, ensuring timely resolution for bereaved individuals navigating estate settlements during already challenging times.

STEP recently surveyed its members to provide evidence about the impact of probate delays, potential causes, and recommendations to reduce delays. Probate registry errors were revealed as a key cause of stopped, and therefore delayed, applications by 68% of respondents. Most (61%) respondents highlighted that applications were delayed still further because of a lack of senior staff to review them.

Nearly all (94%) of respondents recommend that the UK government should appoint more probate registrars. STEP and its members (80% of respondents) are keen to see more complex cases identified early on and allocated directly to a senior person. Alongside this, 82% of respondents would like more financial resources for the probate registry so that current and future staff can be upskilled, and trained to handle complex questions

What’s more, CILEX, which has over 2,200 members working in private client, reports clients are experiencing additional stress at an already difficult time and their lawyers are also under pressure given the understandable complaints and scrutiny from clients frustrated by the process. CILEX says this “negatively affected the perception of lawyers’ competency and their professional relationship with clients”. Of the 189 CILEX practitioners surveyed, 61% did not believe beneficiaries, executors and the bereaved are protected and supported through the probate process.

Property sales in particular are being affected, with purchases falling through because of the wait to obtain a grant. Many clients are therefore unable to access the funds they need, with a knock-on effect on lawyers’ ability to charge their fees. Of the CILEX private client lawyers surveyed, 65% believed staff resourcing would improve the situation, highlighting an urgent need for staff with “the technical and legal knowledge to deal with complex applications, stops and enquiries”.

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