Bishop & Sewell

Private Client lawyers are facing a pandemic-related problem with Probate. The backlog of cases awaiting the attention of the Probate Registry means that settling the estate of a clients’ deceased relative is facing considerable delays, writes Shelina Vaiya, An Associate Solicitor in our Private Client team.

Even the complexities of settling the affairs of someone who has left a Will mean that it is not unusual for these matters to take two to three months’ to complete. However, these backlogs are now taking up to twice as long, for even cases where the stipulations in the Will are quite clear and uncontested.

In certain cases where a family member was entirely financially dependent on the deceased, ensuring that living expenses can be processed as urgently as possible is essential. Without access to these funds the dependents only recourse is to take out loans to maintain payments for mortgages or living expenses for example.

The problem has arisen for a combination of reasons. Many of the staff at HMRC who deal with the Inheritance Tax account are now working from home, as indeed are many staff at the Probate Registry, and don’t have access to the documents and systems they need. In addition, many civil servants have been redeployed to focus on COVID-19 related work. Along with many thousands of people some have been put on furlough so the staff resourcing issue for the Probate Registry is acute.

There is of course an online registration process which was introduced last year shortly after the first lockdown occurred. However, this only allows for very straightforward applications to be lodged, mainly by executors named in a Will or, where there is no Will, only one person is able to make the application. Then only the person making the application is able to access the case file, meaning that checking the progress of an application is not possible for other interested parties.

IFA magazine here points out that, “In addition, due to the delays, some dependants are also finding themselves liable for mounting interest charged on Inheritance Tax owed on properties. A Grant from the Probate Registry is needed before a sale can take place. Should these properties remain vacant for extended periods of time, they also risk being occupied by squatters who could prove difficult to evict especially during lockdown.”

The grim milestone of over 100,000 deaths due to COVID-19 in the UK has not passed unnoticed for those people who had yet to write a Will.

New data, reported in Forbes suggests that Will-writing has increased by 44%. The largest demographic shift was among younger people. Millennials (born 1981-1996) and Gen Z (born 1997-2012) numbers were up 298% and 465%, respectively.

The shift has brought the average age of someone writing their Will down from 50 in 2019 to 47, the magazine reports.

Our Private Client lawyers have the knowledge and experience to guide you through these challenging times and have been ranked in the Legal 500 for their expertise.

If you are in need of advice or assistance on any of the issues mentioned in this article please contact Shelina Vaya or another member of our expert Private Client Team on 020 7631 4141 or email

The above is correct as at 03 February 2021. The information above may be subject to change as this is a constantly evolving situation.

Shelina Vaiya Associate Solicitor   +44 (0)20 7079 4138

David Little

David Little's Blog

Learn more

Mark Chick's Blog<

Mark Chick's Blog

Leasehold information

Learn more

Technical updates

View by