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Covid-19 has increased bereavement process delays

Research indicates that 73% of legal firms say lockdown has exacerbated the probate process problem.

12th Nov 2020
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Covid-19 has caused a growing backlog of probate claims that is frustrating bereaved families, lawyers and accountants.

The probate process has been a longstanding issue in the legal world, dragging out what is already an uncomfortable and distressing task. HMRC partially addressed the issues for tax advisers and executors a few years ago when it streamlined the process to allow IHT205  inheritance tax estate returns to be filed online.

Further changes were made in June to cater for the increased demand for clearance due to the rise in Covid-related deaths.

But Melinda Giles from the Law Society wills and equity committee told Private Eye: "We believe the problems are to do with the delays at HMRC as much as the probate office.”

A Law Society update on the issue in September explained: “Inheritance tax queries still remain the highest proportion of stops both on paper and digitally. HMCTS cannot progress without the IHT so asks to either wait until practitioners have it back or stagger sending to HMCTS until the recommended processing time of HMRC (currently 14 days) has passed."

HMRC denied the lawyers’ claims, advising that “there have been no delays in HMRC meeting probate requests” and that the department had been meeting turnaround times consistently. HMRC advised those seeking IHT clearance to submit applications digitally where possible.

Frontline responses

Assurances from HMRC and HM Courts and Tribunal Service that the probate situation is improving were contradicted by a recent survey from fintech platform Exizent. Nearly three quarters of respondents reported negative impacts on their work. More than half of those surveyed reported an eight-week wait in the time it took for institutions to respond to probate claims.

With only one in three firms saying they were satisfied with the time taken to clear probate, Exizent founder and CEO Nick Cousins urged the profession to adopt technology that would speed the process. 

Most discovery remains paper-based and nearly 5m letters are being sent every year to collect probate information. “Eighty-five percent don't have any technology dedicated to managing probate while 18% don’t use any software at all,” said Cousins, who is obviously keen to supply them all.

Replies (7)

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By johnjenkins
13th Nov 2020 09:46

When are people going to realise this is a WORLD problem and fings aint what they used to be.
Get a grip lads and lassies (alphabetical). Although we would all like to work the same we can't. It's not nice but it is a fact of life. What is really worrying is how fragile the world really is when something like this changes everything.

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By nekillim
13th Nov 2020 10:23

Lockdown Rules state:-

"You can leave home for work purposes, or to provide voluntary or charitable services, where you cannot do this from home."

Clearly they cannot do the work from home, so go to work!

I have not missed a day since January, as I cannot do my work effectively from home.

HMRC and Councils still expect to be paid on time. Covid is not an all purpose excuse!

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Replying to nekillim:
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By geoffmw1
13th Nov 2020 11:01

you've hit the nail on the head. The civil servants don't lose any pay if they get less work done than normal

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Replying to nekillim:
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By johnjenkins
13th Nov 2020 14:02

Nor was Brexit.

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By Ian McTernan CTA
13th Nov 2020 13:18

The delays have become extreme, I have a friend who has been waiting almost 6 months for probate to be granted and it has led to delays in house sale completion and funding issues for his mother's care home fees.
Probably not helped by a solicitor who promises to get things done then doesn't...

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Replying to Ian McTernan CTA:
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By johnjenkins
13th Nov 2020 14:09

Come on Ian, you're a realist, like me, so you know that those that are getting paid regardless of the situation will take their time.
There is no delay in protesters, protesting about something. There is no delay in winos getting money for their booze, walking up and down the town in 4's 5's and 6's. I asked one of our local bobbies about it and he said what's the point in fining them?
Unfortunately lockdown makes some people lethargic and this has a knock on effect.

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By Donald MacKenzie
20th Nov 2020 08:12

There is a similar delay in setting up Power of Attorney arrangements - and for the same reasons.
In mid September the Office of the Public Guardian Scotland was working on submission from mid February. By mid November, they are now dealing with submission from mid March. Things are going backwards.
Will one single member of staff be losing income? Are they failing to get the work done by whatever working from home system they have? If NOT getting job done at home they should be at work.

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