Losing a loved one, particularly a close family member such as a spouse, parent, grandparent or sibling, is likely to bring with it innumerable practical and spiritual challenges.
It is hard then, if when we are in the process of trying to digest our loss and attempting to recalibrate our positions in the world, we become bogged down by the bureaucratic demands of death and all the feelings of powerlessness and impersonality these can engender.
Probate lawyers help smooth the process
This of course is why so many people opt to use the services of a probate lawyer to help administer an estate; a good probate lawyer can negotiate the process so that grieving relatives don't have to get bogged down in too much of the detail themselves, keeping all interested parties informed and reassured while working through the many important legal aspects including issues such as Capital Gains Tax, Inheritance Tax, liquidation of assets, settling debts and handling funeral costs. Between them, these matters can generate significant levels of paperwork while simultaneously demanding incredible attention to regulations and time limits. And it is startling just how costly, and sometimes catastrophic, any errors or omissions can prove to be in the long-run.
The problematic nature of DIY probate is further compounded by the unfortunate fact that the Probate Registry itself does not always run with the level of reassuring efficiency that would be hoped for at times of mourning and estate administration.
Problems with probate
So far this year, the registry has been beset with problems, as delays and backlogs have resulted in probate applications taking as long as eight weeks; a far cry from the two-week turnaround to which the service aspires.
Although the government might argue that a perfect storm of factors conspired to create the problem, including the fact that there has been a rush on the service before the introduction of a proposed (and now delayed) new fee system, the reality is that controversy over the new fees arriving at precisely the same time as digital application teething issues, multiple regional probate registry closures and the introduction of a centralised service can only be considered as a cocktail of Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunal Service's (HMCTS) own making.
Of course, HMCTS may be right and the service may eventually be improved once the regional centres are closed and the registry's work settles under a single roof in Birmingham, but the fact that it did not adequately plan for a transition period has had real-life consequences for countless people engaged in the probate process now.
Law Society review hints at progress
Fortunately, we may have just turned a corner. The Law Society met with HMCTS at the end of June to review many of these problems and reported details of its review on its website.
Importantly, during the review, HMCTS acknowledged there had been problems, not only with delays to the service, but also in providing information and communication to those affected by the delays. Perhaps the greatest reassurance and indicator of a brighter future came shortly afterwards when The Law Gazette reported that the backlog had been reduced by 20,000 between May and June, with "more applications being processed than ever before".
The Gazette also reported that a number of probate solicitor firms had been consulted by HMCTS in order to help develop the new digital service, allaying fears that it was simply being "imposed" on the profession. In the meantime, it is hard not to feel pity for those DIY probate applicants who have had to suffer these teething problems on their own without the reassurance and steady hand of a professional probate lawyer.
To find out more about the probate process and how a probate professional could assist you, click through to our Probate FAQs page.