Skip to content

In November 2023 the Justice Committee launched an investigation into the application for probate following a marked increase in application timescales and general delays. It has been reported that the application time doubled from April 2022 to April 2023 and probate practitioners are seeing applications take up to 16 weeks to be processed. In some rare cases, the wait time is even longer with reports of up to 9 months.

Delays can be caused by a number of reasons, such as:

  • Incorrectly completed probate applications; and
  • Issues with the Will such as damage or handwritten amendments.

This is by no means an exhaustive list and delays have also been noted, for no apparent cause, on applications that are considered straightforward.

In addition to the general delays in processing applications, there have also been changes in recent years to the probate application process, which not all people may be aware of.

For instance, since 1st January 2022 HMRC and the Probate Registry disbanded the requirement to submit the Return of Estate Information form (IHT205) for low value estates. Previously, the IHT205 would need to be sent to the Probate Registry together with the probate application. It is now the case that in most circumstances personal representatives applying for probate for low value estates will only be required report the gross and net value of the estate on the probate application.

In addition, from 17th January 2024, HMRC changed the procedure for estates where a full Inheritance Tax return (IHT400) is required. Historically, if an IHT400 was submitted this could be sent to HMRC together with the Probate summary (form IHT421). This allowed for HMRC to forward confirmation of the inheritance tax position directly to the Probate Registry. If no tax was being paid the submission time was 20 working days. If there was tax to pay the submission time could take longer but delays were rare if tax (or an instalment of tax) was paid promptly. During the 20 working day wait personal representatives could complete the probate papers ready for submission as soon as confirmation was reported to them by HMRC.

Personal representatives now submit the IHT400 to HMRC and wait for them to provide an acknowledgement letter containing a unique code and confirmation of the gross and net value of the estate. Only after this code has been received can personal representatives finalise the papers required to apply for the Grant. This may provide HMRC and the Probate Registry with additional time to process applications, but has the effect of imposing additional time delays in preparing and submitting the probate application. This is because HMRC’s acknowledgement letter should be issued within 20 workings days after submission of the IHT400 – this is the case on estates where both tax is and is not to be paid.

Breaking it down, personal representatives now submit the IHT400, wait 20 working days (or more) for HMRC’s confirmation code and then finalise and submit the grant application. Previously, personal representatives would submit the IHT400 and IHT421 and get the grant application papers prepped and ready to go. After c.20 working days they would receiving confirmation from HMRC and be ready to submit the grant application.

It should be highlighted that if the probate application is submitted prior to receiving HMRC’s confirmation letter, the Probate Registry may not process the application.

These additional time periods are having a knock-on effect on many areas of an estate administration with no apparent recourse in place. For instance, applications for relief on the loss of value of shares can only be applied for if shares are sold within 12 months of the date of death. The delays can create serious restrictions on the time to be able to sell the shares, realise the loss and prepare the relief application. In addition, estates are encountering prolonged liabilities such as insuring an unoccupied property which cannot be sold because the grant has not been issued, not to mention ancillary costs such as ongoing utility bills and fluctuations in the market.

Therefore, if you are applying for probate bear in mind:

  • That you need accurate details of the gross and net estate;
  • That you may need to provide evidence if a Will is damaged;
  • That if you submit an IHT400 you cannot complete the probate papers until HMRC have issued a code and confirmed the gross and net values and this can take up to 20 working days;
  • That the Probate Registry will not process an application where inheritance tax is payable until HMRC have confirmed receipt of the payment.

Contact Lyons Davidson’s Probate Professionals for assistance with completing and submitting applications.