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Justice Committee launches new inquiry into probate amid concerns over delays and consumer protection

22 November 2023

The Justice Committee has today launched a new inquiry into probate, the legal term for sorting out a will, amid concerns over delays in processing applications.

The waiting time for probate almost doubled from April 2022 to April 2023, with reports citing cases of probate taking more than eleven months and practitioners advising clients that probate will take at least nine months.

Probate involves identifying the deceased person’s assets, paying off any debts and sharing out the remaining estate according to the will. A property cannot be sold, and the money distributed, until a formal grant of probate is issued. Probate is administered by HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS). Any Inheritance Tax must be paid before a grant of probate is issued.

The cross-party committee of MPs will take evidence on capacity, resources and delays across the probate service, the impact of digitisation, centralisation and innovation, including the effectiveness of the online probate portal.

The inquiry will examine people’s experiences of applying for probate including how effectively beneficiaries, executors and the bereaved are supported through the process and protected from rogue traders. It will also analyse performance data relating to the Probate Registry.

Chair comment

Chair of the Justice Committee, Sir Bob Neill (Con, Bromley & Chislehurst), said: 

“Concerns over probate have risen sharply over the last five years, with the waiting time for probate almost doubling in the last financial year alone. It is right the Justice Committee examine the reasons behind this, the consequences and takes evidence on the issues of capacity and resourcing.

“Families across the country, have faced challenges in navigating the probate system, with reports of rogue traders and poor practice, as well as significant delays. My Committee wants to examine how the administration of probate could be improved for people who are already coming to terms with the loss of a loved one.”    

Terms of reference    

The Justice Committee invites written submissions by 22 January 2024 addressing any or all of the following questions: 

Key questions 

Capacity, resources and delays 

  • Does the probate service have the necessary resources, capabilities, and expertise to process applications for probate, including complex probate, in a timely manner? If they do not, how could this be improved? 
  • What are the principle causes of the delays in issuing grants of representation?  
  • What is being done to overcome the current delays and are there any gaps?  
  • What is being done to bring greater resilience to the probate system to mitigate against future delays? 
  • What has been the impact of delays and what should the Government do to mitigate that impact?  
  • What can be done to avoid stops?  
  • How well is the system working for complex probate applications?   

Performance measurement and data 

  • What mechanisms and metrics should be used to judge on a regular and ongoing basis whether the Probate Registry is performing well? 
  • Does HMCTS have the data necessary to enable performance of the service to be monitored?  

Technological change and innovation 

  • Does the probate portal provide improved access to justice and value-for-money?  
  • What is the potential for technological change and innovation to improve the future operation of the probate system?  

People’s experience of probate 

  • How well are beneficiaries, executors and the bereaved protected and supported through the probate process? Are the needs of particular groups, such as disabled people or older people, appropriately considered? If not, what steps should be taken and what relevant examples of best practice exist? 
  • How well are people protected from rogue traders? Is sufficient information and support available to individuals? 

Fees and thresholds 

  • Are the fees and thresholds set at the right level? 

Further information

Image credit: Tyler Allicock/UK Parliament