Covid-19 strikes again for grieving families seeking probate

In recent weeks, we’ve found ourselves writing a number of articles as to how the Coronavirus’ cruelty and lockdown limbo was causing headaches for many, but it seems that the recent pandemic continues to hold a sting in its tail for those who are grieving.

A recent article in the Sunday Times told of how families were struggling to resolve probate due to delays and problems at the Probate Office. Not only were these families left facing the grief of losing a loved one, many were now also suffering extra stress and financial difficulty due to the delays.

The article tells the story of Christine Carter who had been trying to sell her late father’s bungalow in Kent. Despite having all the correct paperwork, and submitting the application to the Probate Office on 18 February shortly after her father’s death, Christine’s application wasn’t received until 16 April - almost two month later.

Christine wasn’t the only one. Chris Coote applied for probate in April on his late mother, Betty’s estate. But, despite receiving an email acknowledgement, there had been no other update as to when the application was being processed, or when probate was being granted. As staff were working from home, paperwork was taking longer to process than normal. Plus, it seemed that some offices were dealing with very large areas of the country - from Newcastle to Norwich, for example.

With all local offices shut due to Covid-19, it seemed the only option was to phone the probate service. However, both Christine and Chris complained that it took too long to get through, with each spending hours on hold before being able to speak to someone.

What’s worse, is that there were further urgencies in both of these situations. For Christine, she had keen buyers lined up to purchase her late father’s bungalow, who were at the top of a chain of three - so if the sale fell through that could have led to financial implications for her, as well as needing to find another buyer.

For Chris, the urgency was a little more serious as he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and was trying to get his affairs in order.

More than 280,000 probate applications are made to the Government every year. However, it seems that as the pandemic took hold, there were no provisions to ensure the smooth running of the service - leaving people like Chris and Christine out on a limb.

The Probate Service is now encouraging people not to call as they will not be able to give updates over the phone. The probate registry is now also agreed to accept electronic signatures in some cases to help speed things up.

Probate applications can be tricky and it’s always worth asking a solicitor for support with this. A solicitor also has access to a dedicated phone line for legal professionals, plus it can be cheaper to process your application via a solicitor.

If you would like some further advice relating to wills and probate, contact Downs Solicitors to see how we can help.

Liz Dalgetty

Liz Dalgetty

Consultant Solicitor & Notary Public

Tel: +44 (0) 1306 502251

Office: Dorking Office

Email: [email protected]