Home Money Grieving families plunged into probate hell by bureaucratic chaos

Grieving families plunged into probate hell by bureaucratic chaos

by Elijah
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'Disappointment': Peter West waited more than a year for will approval

'Disappointment': Peter West waited more than a year for will approval

‘Disappointment’: Peter West waited more than a year for will approval

The unfortunate saga of thousands of grieving families waiting up to a year for the probate office to approve the vital documents needed to deal with the affairs of their deceased loved ones becomes more shameful by the day.

Grieving families already wait up to an hour to speak to a public official on the phone and must wait 16 weeks before requesting an update on an application.

Now documents seen by The Mail on Sunday show the extent of the collapse at HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) as it tries to get a handle on the huge backlog of probate applications. This suggests that the system is no longer fit for purpose.

A dossier submitted by law firms and trade bodies to the Justice Committee reveals:

  • Fourteen weeks is the average waiting time for a succession application to be approved: double that of 2023;
  • Applications made on paper – rather than the alternative, online – take up to 23 weeks to be granted;
  • More than one in four probate applications are not issued at the first attempt, as HMCTS demands more information from the applicant, which can lead to weeks of additional delays;
  • The Ministry of Justice admits that it “has not always been able to secure sufficiently trained staff to ensure that the most complex applications are processed in a timely manner”;
  • In extreme cases, applicants find themselves in debt while waiting more than two years for the probate to be approved and are forced to pay taxes and legal fees out of their own pocket before receiving the probate.

In evidence presented to the Justice Committee, retired solicitor Anthony Tahourdin said delays in probate meant that, in one case, the sale of an investment portfolio worth £1.8 million could not go ahead.

By the time probate was granted and the investments were sold, their value had plummeted by £300,000.

The delays mean many are suffering financial hardship as they are forced to cover the essential costs needed to put their loved ones to rest.

Emily Deane, of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners, says: ‘Beneficiaries have had to pay for funerals, debts and other expenses out of their own pockets and cannot repay them until the grant of probate has been made. We have heard that some beneficiaries have been forced to take out loans to pay inheritance tax and that house sales have failed.’

If the deceased’s assets are worth more than £325,000, their estate is subject to inheritance tax, which must be paid within six months of their death. After this point, interest is charged at 2.5 percentage points above the Bank of England base rate, which is currently 5.25 per cent.

Reduced telephone lines

In a bid to tackle the backlog, HMCTS has temporarily reduced service on its phone line from 9-5pm to 9-1pm, which it says will free up staff to help process applications more quickly during a busy period. activity.

The decision comes after the Justice Committee launched an investigation into probate delays last November, with a consultation expected in the coming weeks.

Bob O’Neill, chair of the Justice Committee, says: “Reducing the opening hours of telephone lines will make it even more difficult for bereaved people to get advice or find out what is happening with their application and risks making what is often a disruptive process even more difficult. .’ An automated message on the helpline now says that “due to high demand, it is taking longer than usual to process requests” and directs users online.

HMCTS also suggests applicants use their web chat service, which says “all our advisers are busy”. Try again in a few minutes’.

25 hours on the phone

Dozens of Mail on Sunday readers have written to us to express their frustration at the year-long wait for their succession to be granted.

Peter West, 79, a retired consulting engineer, says he has spent around 25 hours in total trying to contact staff to get updates on his application.

Peter has been trying to apply for probate into his brother-in-law Graham’s affairs since December 2022. Graham’s estate was worth £530,000 when he died, including property worth £440,000 and £70,000 in savings.

But delays at HMCTS mean Peter has had to reduce the property’s asking price to £410,000. Meanwhile, the prospective buyer’s mortgage offer has expired twice.

Peter has also lost around £8,000 in interest on Graham’s savings.

“The probate office is a total disaster,” says Peter. ‘Every time I call I can’t get through to anyone who can help me and I can’t understand why no one calls me back. “I feel totally disappointed by the service.”

Jade Gani, probate and estate planning specialist Circle Law, says the situation will only get worse as applicants make more mistakes on the forms and are unable to check HMCTS for updates.

‘It is going to be more difficult to contact staff during the short period that the phone line is open. Many calls will go unanswered, causing even greater delays,” he says.

“We are already seeing property sales fail and delays have tax implications as the value of a property has changed,” he adds.

You can apply for probate online or by mail, but paper applications will likely take longer to process. There is no fee to apply for probate if an estate is worth less than £5,000.

Above this threshold, it costs £273 to apply.

An HMCTS spokesperson says: ‘People should continue to submit applications as usual and can make calls to us in the morning or throughout the day on our web chat, Monday to Friday. They can also follow the progress of applications on GOV.UK at any time.’

Peter West’s succession application was approved last week.

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