After being contacted by several desperate readers, the Observer newspaper printed an article earlier this month revealing the emotional impact experienced by grieving families across the UK in their efforts to apply for probate. (‘Grieving relatives tell of despair at months of waiting for probate’, Anna Tims, the Observer, 2 May 2021).
Describing the process as “alarmingly hands-off” and “like a nightmare”, those featured in the article are by no means alone in their experiences, with a reported 42% increase in complaints since 2018. Due to the pandemic, many families have had to unexpectedly deal with probates, resulting in grant applications rising to 61,793 between July and September 2020 (Law Gazette, 26 March 2021).
While this figure has now fallen, delays to the service continue with loved ones left frustrated, distressed, and helpless as they wait to receive a response from the HM Courts and Tribunals Service, with reported delays of up to eight months in some cases.
As a legal term, ‘probate’ specifically refers to the court document confirming the legally appointed executors of the deceased. Executors can work alongside or independently of legal advisors to arrange the funeral and settle the affairs of the deceased person.
After a death, the most important concerns after the immediate practical arrangements, are to ascertain the assets at the date of death, to arrange for the continuation of any business which forms part of the estate, to identify and locate all beneficiaries, to protect and ultimately sell assets, to pay debts and taxes, and to distribute the estate to the persons entitled to it.
A report from the Ministry of Justice based on applications submitted between October and December 2020 revealed an average waiting time of 35 working days, with data from the earlier three quarters showing a similar delay period. This has been compounded by ‘stopping’ applications, which has extended the process to around twelve weeks.
However, the HM Courts and Tribunals Service recently informed the Law Society that 2021 has been “productive” so far with the promise of a reduction in delays. In particular, the facility for solicitors to apply for a grant of probate digitally has resulted in a much quicker turnaround.
Obtaining probate is achieved more quickly if the executors use an expert probate lawyer. A probate practice will collect and distribute assets effectively, giving the executors and beneficiaries the advantage of expert help, familiarity with the procedures, preferential access to statutory bodies, and compliance with the whole raft of anti money-laundering, data protection, and client account regulations. This service saves executors and families a great deal of time, anxiety, and uncertainty at a time of change and bereavement.
At A M Davies, we are experienced in supporting executors with probate grants and estate administration, to ease the burden of these sometimes complex procedures. We can either oversee the whole process or assist with specific arrangements, giving the executors full control and peace of mind.