Delays and cost increase add to UK probate issues

24 April 2024

The number of probate cases taking over a year to be granted has jumped by 65% over the last three years, a Freedom of Information request by Quilter has revealed.

In addition, the number taking just under two years has also surged by 65%, despite government guidelines stating that probate should be granted within 16 weeks of submitting an application.

The long waiting times come as the Ministry of Justice confirmed that probate fees are to be hiked by 10% to £300 from May 2024.

Applying for probate allows someone to gain access to the deceased’s assets, such as bank accounts, property and investments. However, delays in obtaining a grant of probate can cause several issues, including financial strain, problems managing the deceased’s property and the inability to pay their utility bills and debts, as well as investment risks such as missed investment opportunities or losses if the investments depreciate in value during the delay.

There are also tax liabilities to consider, said Quilter, with delays in probate leading to late payment penalties or interest charges. Legal challenges, including disputes or challenges against the will, could also arise.

Shaun Moore, tax and financial planning expert at Quilter, said: “In the midst of grief, executors, often close kin or friends, face the added burden of navigating the probate maze. The increasing length of time it is taking HMRC to grant probate will just add to the stress of the process.

“With probate wait times soaring, the emotional toll intensifies. Despite there being an increase in the number of people submitting their paperwork digitally it is clear that HMRC is struggling to keep up with the workload causing these longer wait times. This can have huge ramifications for a family. It is natural that more complex estates will take longer for probate to be granted but the increases in wait times across the board is cause for concern.”

Quilter said it was important for people to have their estate as organised as possible before they pass, including simple things such as utilising trusts during someone’s lifetime and moving assets out of the estate so that they’re not part of the private process, for example placing life insurance policies in trust.

Moore added: “While it is impossible to predict how long you might live it is never too soon to start thinking about making lifetime gifts. This not only removes an asset from your estate for probate purposes but a gift made seven years prior to your passing may also help reduce any Inheritance tax liability.”

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