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Grieving families are set to face a 10 per cent hike in probate fees despite waiting as much as two years for vital documents to deal with their dead loved one’s affairs.  

The costs for applying for a probate grant – which gives bereaved families the legal right to sell their late relative’s home and access their bank accounts and possessions – will rise to £300 in May.  

It comes amid bureaucratic chaos at the HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) already causing an enormous backlog of applications with families having to wait up to an hour just to speak on the phone to a civil servant.

It usually takes 16 weeks to get a probate grant, but almost 1,500 families had to endure a delay of a year or more in 2023, according to data obtained by wealth manager Quilter

Some have seen the value of their relative’s estate plummet by the time the probate is granted with MailOnline being aware of one case where delays meant the value of an investment portfolio worth £1.8million had fallen by £300,000.

Grieving families set to face 10 per cent hike in probate fees to £300 despite waiting as much as two years for vital legal documents to deal with their late loved one’s affairs amid saga sparked by bureaucratic chaos

Peter West, 79, a retired consultant engineer, has been trying to apply for probate for his brother-in-law Graham’s affairs since December 2022

Quilter told The Telegraph the delays could have huge ramifications for families ‘caught in the probate maze’. 

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.’

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

Peter West, 79, a retired consultant engineer, spoke to The Mail on Sunday in February in which he revealed he had spent around 25 hours in total trying to get through to staff for updates about his application.

Source: Quilter, which analysed official figures obtained under a freedom of information request

Source: Quilter, which analysed official figures obtained under a freedom of information request

It usually takes 16 weeks to get a probate grant, but almost 1,500 families had to endure a delay of a year or more in 2023, according to data obtained by wealth manager Quilter

It usually takes 16 weeks to get a probate grant, but almost 1,500 families had to endure a delay of a year or more in 2023, according to data obtained by wealth manager Quilter 

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

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

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

‘The probate office is a total shambles,’ says Peter. ‘Every time I ring up, I can’t get through to anyone who can help and I can’t understand why no one will ring me back. I feel totally let down by the service.’

‘It’s a bit of a lottery how long any particular application now takes before the probate is granted,’ says Jo Summer, a spokesperson for the STEP organisation for inheritance professionals, who gave evidence and suggestions for improvements to MPs at a recent hearing.

‘More complex applications, particularly those done on paper, definitely take longer than the simpler digital applications. However, you can also send two similar applications at the same time and one takes far longer than the other.

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

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

‘It’s worse in cases where the application is from a trust company or where the executors have appointed someone to act as their attorney in obtaining the probate.’

Bureaucratic chaos at the HM Courts and Tribunals Service is  already causing an enormous backlog of applications with families having to wait up to an hour just to speak on the phone to a civil servant

Bureaucratic chaos at the HM Courts and Tribunals Service is  already causing an enormous backlog of applications with families having to wait up to an hour just to speak on the phone to a civil servant

A spokesman for HMCTS said: ‘Most digital probate applications are processed in around nine weeks and we have recruited more staff to deliver further improvements for customers – resulting in record numbers of grants being issued in recent months.

‘The number of applications taking over a year to resolve represents just 0.3pc of our overall caseload.’

You can apply for probate online or via post but paper-based applications are likely to take longer to be processed. There is no fee to apply for probate if an estate is worth less than £5,000.

Above this threshold, it currently costs £273 to make an application.

MailOnline has contacted HMCTS for further comment.  



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