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A Reduction at the Registry: The Future of Grant Applications after Covid-19

In the past it was a comfort to know that Registry grant applications would take up to 10 working days to be issued, but following legislation proposed by Government in 2019, this led to an influx of applications being made to avoid this change, causing processing delays of 1-3 months.

With this delay believed to be falling at the beginning of the year, the Covid-19 pandemic has cast mystery over the future of applications, how they are processed and how fast they will be issued.

What is a grant?

A grant is a sealed court document allowing for someone to act on behalf of the Estate of someone who has died. Depending on whether a person dies with or without a Will, depends on the type of grant that needs to be obtained. In the case of a person who leaves a Will this is known as a “Grant of Probate”, whereas “Letters of Administration” are for someone who does not.

The person who can apply for a Grant of Probate is the person(s) named in the deceased’s Will whereas the person(s) who apply to the Registry for Letters of Administration is known as an Administrator. The entitlement to act as an Administrator will solely depend on the deceased’s surviving family and the intestacy rules.

In either situation, both of these grants are issued through the Registry and allow for the Executor or Administrator to act on behalf of the Deceased and their Estate, in particular to deal with assets and liabilities for inheritance purposes.

What are the latest stats and issues?

Recent Registry statistics have been released to confirm that the number of grant applications has fallen by 50% following the lockdown enforced by Government from 23rd March 2020. Prior to this sharp fall, registries were receiving between 5,000 and 6,000 applications a week from legal professionals and individuals. So why has there been a dramatic decrease following these long delay?

Access to documents and information

One explanation of this drop off can be attributed to the obvious inability to access the required information or documents needed to apply for grants. With many Wills securely stored in solicitor firm vaults across the country or the homes of the deceased, the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions have prevented legal professionals and loved ones from travelling to offices and homes to collect this required information and documents needed to apply.

Closure of Registries

Over the last year Registries across the country have been closing in order to centralise the service with many applications being redirected to those that have remained open. Prior to this, Registries could be found in most county districts with no restriction on them being used by people living anywhere. With the loss of regional offices and staff this has played a role in affecting probate delays and the amount staff processing grants.

Evolution and changes in the process

With the closure of over 20 Registries across England and Wales, HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) who run those that remain open, have attempted to move grant applications online with their new beta service whilst also introducing new forms for paper applications in March.

Currently this has proved very unpopular with a reported 50 applications out of the 2,000 being processed having been submitted in this format.

So what is the future of grants?

It is hoped that with the sharp decrease in grant applications, the Registry will now have the opportunity to catch up on the submitted applications that already require processing.

However with over 39,000 deaths and rising from Covid-19 alone, it is apparent that there will be a likely surge of applications for grants in the future to deal with Estates as the public encourages the government to ease the lockdown.

It has been reported that in a meeting with the Law Society, HMCTS is “fully aware” that this could happen and have trained staff members who previously dealt with court hearings to deal with grant applications. Whilst this is a possible solution whilst courts remain closed and the majority of hearings adjourned, what will happen when hearings resume after the lockdown?

With court hearing staff already stretched thin with the closure of courts across the country, should we be putting further burden on a system that is already struggling? It is hoped that the Government considers there comment on recruitment and training of new staff before this lockdown ends.

Only time will tell whether online processing and the new forms will stick or whether HMCT will need to revert back to the tried and tested methods used previously. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?