An Interview with the Probate Office

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With considerable delays in the process of applications for probate, the Probate Office has faced considerable pressure over the last year that have been heightened by the coronavirus pandemic.

Today’s Will and Probate interviewed Stephen Burgess at HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) in July to ask about the issues currently being faced by the organisation and what it is doing to tackle the delays.

Mr Burgess said 80 percent of staff were moved to working remotely during the first week of lockdown, but most of them were now back in the office. The experience, however, had encouraged the organisation to look at the advantages of a more flexible approach to remote working in the future.

Help to move to the digital service

Some probate applications are now able to be completed digitally, but many still rely on paper documentation. When asked how the Probate Office would deal with those applications, Mr Burgess said they had maintained a skeleton staff throughout. Those staff members kept up the paper applications, although the process did take up much more time which was why they were so keen to help people move to using the digital service.

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Initial reports showed that applications for probate had dropped significantly in April, but the indications were now that things were slowly returning to normal. Mr Burgess said there had been a dip in receipts but that the outputs (grants) from the service “has largely been maintained at pre-Covid 19 levels”’.

He added that on average, probate applications were made approximately three months after the registration of a death and that the office had plans in place to deal with an increased workload over the next few months.

‘9,000 applications a week’

The HMCTS is expecting up to 9,000 applications a week up from a baseline figure of 5,000. Mr Burgess said the service would work much more effectively if the bulk of the legal profession moved to using the digital service.

Today’s Wills and Probate asked what solicitors and those dealing with probate could do to help ease the burden on the HMCTS. Mr Burgess reiterated the point about submitting applications digitally where possible, adding that HMCTS was about to expand the digital service to trust corporations thus removing the need for legal professionals to send the legal statement to their clients.

The office has recently published a FAQ for practitioners about the new paper forms and digital applications which lists the many ways to contact the HMCTS.

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