Probate delays surge: A 65% rise in year-long cases

New analysis of Freedom of Information (FoI) data obtained from the Ministry of Justice by Quilter has found that the number of probate cases taking over a year to be granted has risen by 65% over the last three years.

In addition, the number taking just under two years to be granted has also risen by 65%. This is despite the data only running for nine months of 2023. This comes as the Ministry of Justice confirmed that despite the poor service levels, the standard probate fee will increase by 10% to £300 from May 2024.

According to the government, someone should usually get the grant of probate within 16 weeks of submitting an application.
Delays in obtaining a grant of probate can have several adverse effects:

  • Financial strain: When probate is delayed, the deceased’s assets, including bank accounts, remain frozen. This can prevent beneficiaries from accessing funds they may be relying on for living expenses, creating financial stress.
  • Property and asset management: Properties that remain in the deceased’s name cannot be sold or properly managed without probate. This can lead to issues such as homes falling into disrepair, depreciation of property value, or missed opportunities to sell assets at a favourable time.
  • Investment risks: Investments held by the deceased cannot be managed or reallocated without probate. This inaction can lead to missed investment opportunities or losses if the investments depreciate in value during the delay.
  • Tax liabilities: Estates are sometimes subject to various taxes, such as inheritance tax, income tax, or capital gains tax, depending on the jurisdiction. Delays in probate can lead to late payment penalties or interest charges. Furthermore, executors might miss deadlines for tax advantages due to delays.
  • Distribution delays: Beneficiaries waiting to receive their inheritance may face financial or personal difficulties. Delays can strain family relationships, especially if beneficiaries feel the process is not being managed efficiently.
  • Legal challenges: Prolonged delays in probate might lead to increased chances of disputes or challenges against the will. This could further delay the distribution of the estate and incur additional legal costs.
  • Utility bills and debts: Ongoing expenses such as utilities, insurance, and mortgages need to be paid. Delays can complicate the management of these bills, potentially leading to lapses in insurance coverage.
  • Emotional stress: The period following a death is already a difficult time for friends and family. Delays in the probate process can add to the emotional strain, prolonging the period of uncertainty and making it harder for everyone to find closure.

Shaun Moore, tax and financial planning expert at Quilter said:

“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 is cause for concern.”

One Response

  1. How can Probate be applied for when there was a legal dispute over ownership of property at the time of the death of the original owner?

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