Probate Registry delays – how to get the best results from the current service
The procedures followed by the Probate Registries of England and Wales had, until recently, remained more-or-less the same for many years.
However, in March 2019 the HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) began implementing the largest, most sweeping program of modernisation in the Probate Registries in decades. Seemingly overnight, probate practitioners saw a massive increase in the amount of time taken for the Registries to issue Grants of Representation or even to respond to queries, rocketing from eight working days to eight or more weeks. The delays have been caused by a number of factors, principally errors in their new computer systems, and though HMCTS assures practitioners that their response times will eventually return to normal, the average current response time still seems to be eight weeks.
Although the response times now seem to be decreasing (at the time of this article, some Grants are issued after four to six weeks), until such time as the Probate Registries return to their previous response times, there are a few simple things that practitioners can do to try to minimise any delay in obtaining grants of representation
Ensure that the deceased’s date of birth is included in all communications sent to the Probate Registry. The new computerised system used by the Probate Registry requires the deceased’s date of birth in order for a case to be created. This is the case for pre-lodgement enquiries, documents sent for settling, citations, subpoenas, summons and wills filed on renunciation. Any requests that don’t include a date of birth will be returned requesting this, causing more delay.
Check each application to make sure that all of the necessary documents are enclosed with your first letter. If a document is missed and not submitted, it can take a few weeks for the Probate Registry to check an application and request missing documents. Once any missing documents have been provided, it can be weeks more before an application is processed and a Grant issued.
Remember that the fee for an official copy of a Grant is now £1.50. Always be aware of the current Probate Registry fee scale. Currently the basic Probate Court fee to issue a Grant remains £155.00 for Solicitor applications if the net estate value is more than £5,000.00. The cost of an official copy on application has recently increased from £0.50 to £1.50 (while the cost of ordering a copy of an existing Grant has decreased from £10.00 to £1.50).
Make sure that the required copies of the will are acceptable. The Probate Registry requires two clean copies of any will submitted to them for proof. A clean copy means one in which all writing is legible and visible, which is properly scaled to fit A4 sized paper, and each page must not include any wording (down the edges for example) from any other pages in the will. If necessary wills can be dismantled by the practitioner to allow clean copies to be taken, copies can be double-sided and they need not include front covers, signing instruction pages and similar, only actual testamentary content.
HMCTS are working hard to make sure that Probate Registry response times eventually return to what they were prior to the process and system changes being implemented. In the meantime best practice would be to follow Probate Registry procedures with an additional level of care, double-check all applications being sent to the Probate Registry and always keep in mind the points above. This should ensure that you continue to receive your Grants of Representation in as short an amount of time as currently possible.
Published: October 2019
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