A significant number of legal professionals have criticised the probate service after research revealed that some bereaved families are waiting up to 17 weeks to close an estate.
The report, published by Solicitors For The Elderly, the membership organisation for specialist lawyers who support older and vulnerable people, highlights the “deteriorating service” received by solicitors and families administering the estates of loved ones.
The estimated 29,000 case backlog has been primarily attributed to a surge in applications lodged in response to a planned rise in probate fees – which ultimately never went ahead – and the closure of District Registries in favour of an underwhelming online service, as well as the increase in the death rate associated with Covid-19.
According to the poll of probate professionals, almost three in five (57 per cent) solicitors have experienced delays with grants of probate of between nine and 20 weeks, while eight per cent have faced delays “longer than 32 weeks”.
Solicitors also agreed, almost unanimously (96 per cent), that the new online probate system “isn’t currently fit for purpose”, while a similar number (95 per cent) said the changes to the probate system mean grieving families “face unacceptable extra heartache”.
For example, nine in 10 (93 per cent) professionals said long, avoidable delays have caused families “extra distress” by a house sale falling through or interest and penalties being imposed on unpaid inheritance tax.
Commenting on the report, Michael Culver, Chair of SFE, said the new system simply “isn’t good enough”.
“There are times where the new online system doesn’t work even for the simplest of applications. There are glitches, barriers, and whole sections that aren’t relevant or force you to make choices that aren’t right for your client. Many Grants of Probate then end up being issued with errors, further adding to the delays.”
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