Government cuts leave families frustrated and distressed

12 September 2023

After the loss of a loved one, the last thing many would want is to battle through emails and voicemails for months on end in order to receive a grant of probate. Unfortunately, due to the growing probate delays, this is the reality for thousands of people across the UK.

Director and Head of Private Client, Charlotte Crawford, recently spoke to The Sunday Times about the 'grieving families trapped in probate limbo’  and the impact, unnecessary stress and distress these delays are causing.  According to the HM Courts and Tribunals Service, applying for a grant of probate on paper can take an average of 6 months, with electronic applications taking nearly 6 weeks. These lengthy waits are placing a tremendous strain on families, with many unable to access funds, and in the position of paying heavy tax penalties.

So, why the delay?

HM Courts and Tribunals Service have years’ worth of backlogged cases to process with far fewer resources than before. Managed by the Ministry of Justice, in recent years there have been office closures and work outsourced in order to reduce costs. The Sunday Times stated that, 'experts claim that many experienced and skilled staff in the courts service have either retired or been made redundant as a result of cost-cutting, adding to delays.’

How do you get probate?

A grant of probate or letters of administration allows whoever is appointed the legal right to deal with someone's estate after they die. While in some cases this process can be managed online, paper applications are still necessary in many situations. Estimating the value of the estate, and the likelihood of inheritance tax being due is often the first port of call in probate applications. Inheritance tax is payable by the end of the sixth month following death. 

It is important to note that if an estate is worth less than £325,000 there is no inheritance tax to pay. Additionally, where spouses and civil partners inherit, they are exempt from paying inheritance tax on each other's estates and can pass on any unused inheritance tax allowance. 

The Sunday Times feature indicated that the delays in the system meant that some families are now facing penalties. Months of waiting have resulted in some having to take out loans to pay inheritance tax because families cannot sell any property within the estate until probate is granted.

At what cost?

Another issue that can arise is when an equity release loan has been taken out on the deceased person’s home. Interest is charged until the debt is settled, meaning costs can quickly pile up if there is any further delay to probate that prevents the sale of the property and subsequent delays on the equity release loan repayment.

Despite the pleas of distress from the public about the lengthy delays, HM Courts and Tribunals Service said: “The vast majority of applications are dealt with within seven weeks on average —almost one week quicker than a year ago — and we have hired more staff to meet rising demand.” However, if you want to speak to them about an application you cannot do so until at least 16 weeks have passed so it appears that even they don’t expect to meet this timescale.

At Hugh Jones Solicitors our award-winning team are specialists in their field with extensive experience of obtaining probate and administering estates.

Find out more about how we can help you and your family.