Coronavirus has led to drastic changes in all industries, including the legal sector. Most organisations had to adapt to a predominantly online presence for fear of survival.

How did COVID affect the Probate process?

As a direct result of Coronavirus, HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) mandated online services for grant of Probate applications by professional users, except for cases with more specialised applications. HMCTS also continued to allow professional user applications for grants of letters of administration to be made using either the traditional or online method for a registry.

Why is there a delay for Probate?

Since 2018, the Ministry of Justice has been experiencing delays to Probate – ever since the initial proposal was set out to increase fees. At this point, there was a significant increase in applications due to the lack of information and certainty regarding the new cost structure and process. Issues were then extended due to the new case management system.

Unfortunately, this issue was only exacerbated by the pandemic. Since the first UK coronavirus death in April 2020, there have been almost 150,000 more. This statistic is not only harrowing, but it also highlights the unimaginable strain that has been projected onto the Probate process. The multiple UK national lockdowns also severely affected the backlog of cases, especially the first back in March 2020 when the entire economy was shut down – including courts and solicitors – for almost two months. HMCTS published some figures in mid-May 2020 showing a 50% reduction in grant of representation applications.

The HMCTS has also experienced significant reductions in staff numbers, increasing the backlog further still. Despite this, the organisation has confirmed that they are on track to getting back down to pre-COVID levels in the coming weeks. In the future, they are committed to gradually returning to normal active caseloads of three to four weeks intake – aiming by March 2022.

What other changes are happening?

Back in September 2021, the government consulted on whether to adjust Probate fees. The proposed changes would mean a £273 fee for both professional and non-professional Probate applications – regardless of the estate size. The current fees differ for professional and non-professional users. It is currently £155 for professional users and £215 for non-professionals.

The Ministry of Justice commented saying that the proposed changes are being made to reduce the discrepancy between professional and non-professional applications. The change would also align with the HM Treasury’s guidance that ensures all users should pay the same fee for the same service.

How can we help?

Our Wills and Probate team will be happy to speak with you regarding all areas of wills, probate, inheritance planning and trusts. You can find out more about our Probate services here.