The winds of change have been blowing through the corridors of the probate world recently and the dust has still to settle. The government is set on modernising the probate process but so far the result is that probate applications are facing big delays.
The main change is the push to modernise and digitise the process to make it more efficient and encourage online applications. The suspicion is that these changes are being driven by a desire to save costs. The government is looking to close district probate registries such as the long-established one here in Newcastle and encourage online applications. The fear is that this will make it harder to see someone face to face and that service will suffer. Staff are being cut. The move to the new system has meant that where it might have taken 3 weeks to obtain a grant it can now take nearer 8 weeks.
This is having a knock-on effect on house sales as conveyancing transactions and chains are being held up while the probate is awaited. Executors need to obtain probate before they can complete a house sale.
On top of all this, the government is trying to push through a big increase in probate application fees. As a result, there has been a surge in probate applications to beat the fee increase which was due to come into force from the late Spring. The fee rises have been widely criticised as a stealth tax. The old flat fee of £155 will increase in bands up to £6000. Happily for executors Parliament has been bogged down with the Brexit turmoil so the increases have not yet had parliamentary approval. The fees increases have had to be postponed for now. This is likely to be a temporary respite, however. In future executors will have to dig deep to pay high upfront fees.