Dealing with probate and estate administration matters can be a difficult task in normal circumstances, but during the COVID-19 pandemic it has been especially challenging for many.
However, there are signs that matters are improving with waiting times down, a new digital platform and online portals increasingly being offered by banks and building societies. These elements should mean a smoother and simplified probate process for many, which is welcome news.
The impact of lockdown
The lockdown and ‘stay at home’ message has led to significant delays and difficulties in applying for a grant of representation.
This was due to a number of factors, mainly related to the impact of lockdown. These included difficulty obtaining financial information and property valuations.
Due to pre-Covid changes to the probate application process, combined with the ongoing impact of the pandemic, there were concerns that there would be even more significant delays during 2020 and into 2021.
However, HMCTS has since put in place a contingency plan in place to deal with the surge in applications including training court staff from different areas to deal with probate applications, a new ‘bulk scanning service’ allowing staff to deal with applications remotely and the recruitment of new members of staff.
Current waiting times are variable, but gradually improving on recent months.
Since November 2020, probate practitioners have been required to make most grant applications online, via the HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) online service.
Thomson Snell & Passmore’s probate team, one of the largest in the region, had been an early adopter of this new offering, which is intended to make the probate process more streamlined. For example, firms no longer need to complete paper statements of truth and can also manage all their probate applications through an online dashboard. While the online service is in its infancy, over time practitioners hope this will continue to evolve to enable a more streamlined process.
Technological advance like this are good news for clients and practitioners alike, and any initiative that can make the probate process more efficient should be welcomed. As a team we are and have been submitting online applications for a good while now and can see the potential of the system.
In addition to this, many banks and building societies have now introduced online portals to help those dealing with a bereavement.
For example, Barclays has a bereavement notification service where you can alert the bank of a death, as well as upload documents such as proof of death, funeral invoices and Grants of Probate.
Other banks and building societies also have similar offerings, all of which aim to help make a difficult time a bit easier for people.
While there is still plenty of room for improvement when it comes to the probate process, it is encouraging that waiting times are decreasing, and that technology is increasingly being harnessed with the aim of simplifying and streamlining things.
If you have any questions about the probate process at all, please get in touch with one of the team.