Reviewing the probate service in light of COVID-19

We continue to meet with HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and other key stakeholders to review the status of the probate service. HMCTS would like our members to note the new deadline regarding the transition to the new paper forms is 18 May 2020.

Impact of coronavirus

HMCTS has assured us that probate is one of the best placed services to respond to the impact of COVID-19 and is issuing as many grants per week as it had been doing previously.

It has, however, expressed some concern that COVID-19 has impacted the number of applications being submitted. Normally it would receive around 5,000 to 6,000 grants a week, but since the lockdown was enforced this has reduced to around half that amount. This trend has been seen in both personal applications and solicitor applications.

Contingency plans

HMCTS is fully aware that there will be a surge in applications due to an increased number of deaths resulting from COVID-19 as well as a demand from legal professionals who have been unable to work as they normally would. To combat this, staff members who previously dealt with court hearings before social distancing measures were put in place have been trained to deal with probate applications.

We are told the bulk scanning element of the service has gone to plan which will enable the new paper forms for solicitors to be bulk scanned from the week of 11 May, which staff will be able to access remotely.

HMCTS is also considering further recruitment to assist with this likely surge and informs us that it is always looking to improve systems to ensure it works effectively for staff members.

Online service and new forms

The number of new forms being submitted is still quite small. HMCTS does not have the exact figures, but out of all the applications it's receiving approximately 50 out of around 2,000 are the new forms.

There is still the option for solicitors to submit old style applications, however the deadline for this is Monday 18 May. Once this deadline has passed, HMCTS intends to reject statements of truth. Its reasoning is that it wants to ensure there is a change of culture as it will be unable to bulk scan the old-style forms. It also indicates that it has allowed for a four to eight-week period to adapt to the new forms. A formal notification about this will be published in due course.

HMCTS has noted a slight upward trend in legal professionals using the online service to submit digital applications and would encourage more to adopt this approach. If solicitors are not yet using the online service, they will need to use the new forms.

It has confirmed that partners who are named as executors are now able to submit online applications and that those who are currently unable to make an online application, such as trust corporations, will be added to the process soon.

We are also told HM Revenue and Customers intends to start sending IHT421 forms directly to the Probate Registry within 15 days of issue. A formal notification will be published shortly.

What we’re doing

We are having a further meeting with HMCTS and the Probate Registrar on 12 May to discuss specific issues with the new forms.

HMCTS also intends to publish a blog written by Ian Bond, Chair of the Wills and Equity Committee, which explores the background to the online probate service, the involvement of the Law Society with HMCTS and his experiences in working with HMCTS to develop the pilot for the profession.