Home Money Bereaved families face rise in probate fees to £300, despite three-month wait for grants

Bereaved families face rise in probate fees to £300, despite three-month wait for grants

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Delays in the probate of wills: the average wait for a paper or digital application to be processed is 13.7 weeks, according to official figures

Delays in the probate of wills: the average wait for a paper or digital application to be processed is 13.7 weeks, according to official figures

Probate fees will increase by 10 per cent to £300, as families wait almost more than three months on average for this vital step to be completed following a bereavement.

The average application time has changed little in recent months: 13.7 weeks.

According to the latest official figures, the process has been shortened from the almost four months that the probate process lasted last fall.

However, the number of cases taking six months or longer soared by 112 per cent between 2020 and 2023, according to figures obtained from the Government under a freedom of information request from financial firm Quilter.

And lawyers report that application times are now “a bit of a lottery” and they cannot give people a sure answer about how long the process will take.

Applying for probate is an important step in gaining control over an estate after someone’s death, allowing executors to access bank accounts, settle debts, and arrange legacies.

But lawyers and other estate professionals have said grieving families are struggling and home sales are failing because of delays in probate.

A damning report handed to MPs, who are investigating the long waits experienced by relatives to sort out inheritances, accused the Government’s probate service of being error-prone and lacking experienced staff.

Meanwhile, the Government plans to increase fees from £273 to £300 from next month. The last increase was 27 percent in January 2022.

Inheritance fees do not apply to properties worth less than £5,000, but otherwise a flat rate applies.

This after a controversial plan to introduce a sliding scale – which would have imposed increases of up to 9,200 per cent on the largest properties – was abandoned following a backlash a few years ago.

> Are you the executor of a will? Read our guide to requesting succession and scroll down for more expert advice

Source: Quilter, who analyzed official figures obtained under a freedom of information request.

Source: Quilter, who analyzed official figures obtained under a freedom of information request.

“It’s a bit of a lottery how long a particular application now takes before probate is granted,” says Jo Summer, spokesperson for the STEP organization for inheritance professionals, which presented evidence and suggestions for improvements to MPs at a hearing. recent.

“More complex applications, especially those made on paper, definitely take longer than simpler digital applications. However, you can also send two similar requests at the same time and one takes much longer than the other.

‘There is no sure answer we can give people when they ask us how long the process will take.

‘Some practitioners have received successions within two to four weeks. There was even a notable case where probate came back after nine days. Others, meanwhile, are still waiting for a response from the Probate Registry 18 weeks after filing.

“It is worse in cases where the request comes from a trust company or where the executors have appointed someone to act as their lawyer in obtaining probate.”

Summers says the best-case scenario now would be a guaranteed period for succession, even if it were longer, as it would be much better than complete uncertainty about the current moment.

Regarding the pending increase in the charge to £300, he adds: “With the huge backlog of unprocessed applications in the system, the significant uncertainty and inconsistency over when probate is likely to be granted and bereaved families in financial limbo and emotional, it may not be the best time to raise rates.

Shaun Moore, tax and financial planning expert at Quilter, says: ‘In the midst of grief, executors (often relatives or close friends) face the additional burden of navigating the will maze. The increasing time it is taking HMRC to grant probate will only increase the stress of the process.

‘With succession waiting times skyrocketing, the emotional toll intensifies. Despite there being an increase in the number of people submitting their documentation digitally, it is clear that HMRC is struggling to keep up with the workload caused by these longer waiting times.

‘This can have huge ramifications for a family. It is natural that more complex estates take longer to grant probate, but the increase in waiting times across the board is a cause for concern.’

The Ministry of Justice was asked to comment but did not respond at the time of publication.

> EIGHT ways probate delays can cause problems for grieving families – see below

How do you make probate applications go smoothly?

Quilter’s Shaun Moore gives the following advice.

– Having your assets as organized as possible is the best option. This may include making a will, using trusts, and removing assets from the estate so they are not part of the probate process.

– For example, you can place life insurance policies in trust. In the event of death, life insurance benefits are paid to the trustees and may be distributed, prior to probate, according to the terms of the trust.

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– Lifetime gifts remove an asset from your estate for testamentary purposes, but a gift made seven years before your death can also help reduce any inheritance tax liability.

– To apply for the grant of probate you will need the original will and death certificate of the deceased, and know the total value of the deceased’s assets and liabilities.

What impact do delays in probate have on families?

Quilter warns that long waits for probate can have the following adverse effects.

Financial stress: When probate is delayed, the deceased’s assets, including bank accounts, remain frozen. This can prevent beneficiaries from accessing funds they depend on for their living expenses, creating financial stress.

Property and asset management: Property that remains in the name of the deceased cannot be sold or properly managed without probate. This can lead to problems such as deterioration of homes, depreciation in property value, or missed opportunities to sell assets at a favorable time.

Investment risks: Investments held by the deceased cannot be managed or reallocated without probate. This inaction may result in losses or missed investment opportunities if the value of the investments depreciates during the delay.

Tax responsibilities: Estates are sometimes subject to various taxes, such as inheritance tax, income tax, or capital gains tax, depending on the jurisdiction. Delays in probate may result in late payment penalties or interest charges. Additionally, executors could miss deadlines to obtain tax benefits due to delays.

Distribution delays: Beneficiaries hoping to receive their inheritance may face financial or personal difficulties. Delays can damage family relationships, especially if beneficiaries feel that the process is not being managed efficiently.

Legal challenges: Prolonged delays in probating a will can 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: You need to pay current expenses, such as utilities, insurance, and mortgages. Delays can complicate the management of these invoices, which could lead to gaps in insurance coverage.

Emotional stress: The period after a death is already a difficult time for friends and family. Delays in the probate process can increase emotional tension, prolonging the period of uncertainty and making it difficult for everyone to find closure.

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