A fifth of bereaved relatives face long delays to take control of loved ones’ finances, survey finds


Anguish of families in EIGHT-MONTH probate wait: A fifth of bereaved relatives face long delays to take control of loved ones’ finances, survey suggests

  • Bereaved families are being forced to wait months to take control of loved ones’ finances, with one in 20 facing delays of more than 32 weeks
  • The delay means some are unable to pay inheritance tax on time
  • Lawyers say a new online application system could increase wait times further 
  • The backlog was created in 2018 when the Government announced a rise in probate fees and has been made worse by the pandemic

Bereaved families are being forced to wait eight months to take control of loved ones’ finances.

They should receive probate and the legal papers needed to release money from an estate within a fortnight.

But one in 20 faces delays of more than 32 weeks and half are held up nine to 20 weeks, the poll by Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE) found.

It has left many unable to pay inheritance tax on time while others have seen property sales collapse.

And lawyers fear a new online application system launched last month could increase delays.

Michael Culver, chairman of SFE, said: ‘I have no doubt the new online system will be brilliant, but as it stands it’s riddled with glitches. It isn’t fit for purpose and it’s being rushed through before it’s ready.’ Grants of probate – which allow executors to release money from a deceased family member’s estate – once took ten working days.

But a backlog was created after the Government announced a rise in probate fees in November 2018.

Bereaved families are being forced to wait eight months to take control of loved ones’ finances, with one in 20 facing delays of up to 32 weeks and half held up nine to 20 weeks, according to a new poll [Stock photo]

The proposed changes would have forced families to pay £2,500 for estates worth between £500,000 and £1million, rather than £250.

These plans were scrapped last year yet a combination of a rush in applications and a new IT system resulted in huge delays.

It meant families had to wait several months until the logjam was reduced at the end of last year.

It began to grow again amid coronavirus restrictions and there is now a backlog of 29,000 applications – up by 5,000 since the end of March, according to data from Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service.

Lynne Rowland, a tax partner at Moore Kingston Smith, said lawyers have to wait up to 40 minutes on the phone to speak to probate registry staff about an application.

HMCTS figures show the average grant currently takes less than seven weeks to be issued.

However, Ron Woodham, 70, waited more than six months for probate after his 95-year-old mother Irene died in March.

The former police officer, who lives with his wife Pauline, 71, in Easingwold, North Yorkshire, said: ‘I know these people are under pressure due to the virus, but the whole system seems to be failing.’

Delays have left many unable to pay inheritance tax on time while others have seen property sales collapse [Stock photo]

Delays have left many unable to pay inheritance tax on time while others have seen property sales collapse [Stock photo]

Kate Cox had to spend £4,357 a month on care home fees for her mother Veronica, 83, while she waited 17 weeks for probate on the estate of her father John Edwards, who died in January aged 83. Mrs Cox, 50, who lives in Devon with her husband Andrew, 61, said: ‘We were struggling emotionally and financially but we were powerless to do anything.’

Mr Culver added: ‘These delays are causing a huge detrimental impact to people at a distressing time when they’re already dealing with the death of a loved one.’

Emily Deane, of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners, said they had urged HMCTS to make improvements to the new online system before making it mandatory.

An HMCTS spokesman apologised to both Mrs Cox and Mr Woodham for the delays.

He added: ‘Waiting times are falling despite the pandemic and official statistics – which reflect the situation more accurately than a survey – show they are less than seven weeks on average.’

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