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Probate - a comedy of errors...


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...or it would be if it were funny.

 

Sadly, my uncle died in July of last year, at which time we applied for probate. I enlisted 3 estate agents to value his property so as to find a value for the inheritance tax forms, and was told by one of them to put it on the market as soon as possible as it takes as long to get a completion date as it does a grant of probate. Having never been through this before, I believed him (and to be fair, I believe he thought he was telling the truth).

 

In any case, the property sold within hours of going on the market (Sold, subject to probate). I then saw a flat for sale close to where I live now, and asked the estate agent if I could put an offer in "subject to probate" - she agreed that this was quite common, and so I did. The offer was accepted.

 

We then, after 8 weeks (the probate office refuse to talk to you until 8 weeks has passed) and much faffing around with hours and hours spent in phone queues, discovered that the email they send a few days after applying that says "we have received your supporting documents" actually means "We have your electronic application". I took the former to mean that they had received my uncle's will - which they hadn't. Someone, somewhere had lost it. The post office blamed them, they blamed the post office, yada yada yada...

 

The short and curlies of it was that meant we had to them complete a "lost will" questionnaire, which we did, and then posted it special delivery (as we had the original will) to the address they had given. Another 8 weeks passed, and finally I was able to talk to someone...who informed me that they had given me the incorrect address and that I need to send a copy to Manchester, and also to withdraw my initial application as we no longer had a copy of the will.

 

At this point, I gave up and enlisted a probate solicitor. They told me to withdraw my application, which I did, both in writing and then followed up by a phone call to make sure they had it (was in the phone queue for 2 hours and 16 minutes).

 

Then, 12 weeks later, I am chasing my solicitor for an update (they had since changed the "Won't talk to you for 8 weeks" to "Won't talk to anyone at all until 12 weeks has passed"). At that point they were informed that they hadn't actually withdrawn my initial application, and that they were sorry. Sorry. Yes. 

 

So, every week since then, I have been asking my solicitor for an update as the buyers of my uncle's house, quite understandably want to complete before the stamp duty holiday, and it transpires that the probate office hadn't even made a start on our application.

 

All the while, my uncle's estate is being eaten up in interest on a "equity release" loan that is still running. In the small print it says that they will apply for something or other to take control of the house if probate is not issued within 12 months of the policy holder dying. I thought at the time that 12 months was ample time for such a simple application, but it seems I was wrong.

 

Our application has now been to the London office, then Manchester. I discovered that was in Newcastle, and today I received an email telling that it's on it's way to Cardiff, and nobody knows why.

 

To top it off, the seller of the flat has since died, and his brother is now having to apply for probate in order to sell the flat to me.

 

I realise that the probate office is under a lot of pressure, they claim to have in excess of 500 extra applications a week, but this level of incompetence seems criminal to me.

 

Does anyone know what my options are?

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https://www.gov.uk/applying-for-probate

 

https://farewill.com/articles/how-long-does-probate-take#:~:text=Probate usually takes 1-3,sell property and pay taxes.

 

It does seem to be a bit of a farce - and yes, I imagine currently they are incredibly busy, but you sent your paperwork back in July of last year.  It does seem very unfair.  

 

It looks to me from information on the above links that it can take anything from 1 - 3 months and even up to 12 months or more, depending on the complexity of the will.  Needless to say, I hope you are not left waiting too much longer - especially as some of the delay appears to be the loss of documents.  I will bring your query to the attention of those on the site team who have more experience in this area than I do. 

 

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Cheers. Yes. When we applied, it was supposed to be delays of 8 weeks. That's now changed, but this seems somewhat excessive for a very simple application. There's no tax to pay, no other descendants, nobody contesting, and my sister and I are the natural beneficiaries in any case, "lost" will or not.

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So where are you now?  Going through the lost will process?  Have to say my gut feeling is that involving a solicitor can only lengthen the process, they have no motivation to hasten it.  I went through two lots of probate last year.  It does say it can take 'up to' ' 8 weeks but I didn't read that as a delay and it isn't an unreasonable time. 

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5 minutes ago, hightail said:

So where are you now?  Going through the lost will process?  Have to say my gut feeling is that involving a solicitor can only lengthen the process, they have no motivation to hasten it.  I went through two lots of probate last year.  It does say it can take 'up to' ' 8 weeks but I didn't read that as a delay and it isn't an unreasonable time. 

 

That's my issue. I have no clue where we are and neither does my solicitor. It's like a black hole.

 

I had to get a solicitor as dealing with the probate office (or rather the outsourced call centre) is hell on earth and I was not in a mental state to be able to deal with the incompetence any longer. I simply couldn't take the 2 hour queues coupled with the idiots on the other end when you finally got through. One even answered with "S'up blud?" on one occasion. Another told me to send documents to the wrong address and then another berated me for doing so. It was time to pass the baton to someone used to dealing with them.

 

We're now 7 months down the line, which is considerably longer than the 8 weeks, or even the 3-4 months stated elsewhere.

 

There appears to be nobody that can be contacted. I even wrote to my MP who said that he can't get involved, although to start with simply said "get a solicitor".

 

There's a waiting period of something like 3 months for the ombudsman etc... so it seems that they can simply throw wills in the bin, ignore applications and just take the money and run...with impunity.

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I can feel your frustration and I do understand it.  I had a terrible time at the start of lockdown 1.0 even finding a manned office to pay the probate fee.  The second estate I dealt with was at around the same time as yours and was actually easier because people had settled back into working.  I didn't put in an online application, I printed off the forms, filled them in and queued up at the post office to sent all documentation off together in the most tracked and signed for process possible.  Sending off the original will is scary.  Wondering if taking back the whole thing, starting from scratch and doing as much as possible yourself would make you feel better and actually move things faster.

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9 minutes ago, hightail said:

I can feel your frustration and I do understand it.  I had a terrible time at the start of lockdown 1.0 even finding a manned office to pay the probate fee.  The second estate I dealt with was at around the same time as yours and was actually easier because people had settled back into working.  I didn't put in an online application, I printed off the forms, filled them in and queued up at the post office to sent all documentation off together in the most tracked and signed for process possible.  Sending off the original will is scary.  Wondering if taking back the whole thing, starting from scratch and doing as much as possible yourself would make you feel better and actually move things faster.

 

I started by doing it myself. Did exactly the same (aside from the forms were actually online - they complete the same paper forms and you get a PDF that looks the same as if you had filled them in physically). Did the inventory, and then the tax forms etc... everything was fine until they lost the will (which was sent by the most recorded/tracked/guaranteed service as well - apparently didn't get there).

 

Before I sent the will, I made copies (there was a copy already, stamped COPY), and I took a video of every page to prove it hadn't been tampered with in case it was lost. I must have had a premonition or something, as it was lost, but they sent me an email saying that they had received it, so I thought no more of it.

 

I've taken the whole thing back once already, and then passed it to the solicitor (actually the firm that has been linked above). If I do it again, that will be the fourth time (one application, one lost will questionnaire and subsequent application, and the application from the solicitor). I don't think it will speed things up at all.

 

I think the probate office/service has collapsed due to the "streamlining" and the shutting of sub-offices (in the middle of a pandemic - smart!).

 

It's no longer fit for purpose, but nobody seems to be able to do anything about it. My MP is as helpful as a chocolate teapot, the ombudsman is just as slow and has already said that delays are not worth looking into. Over 98% of probate solicitors surveyed by the Public Services Union, say the on-line application process isn't fit for purpose, and 57% have said that they have seen house sales fall through due to delays since 2019.

 

There has to be someone in government that wants to sort this out.

Edited by numpty
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15 minutes ago, numpty said:

I started by doing it myself. Did exactly the same (aside from the forms were actually online - they complete the same paper forms and you get a PDF that looks the same as if you had filled them in physically). Did the inventory, and then the tax forms etc... everything was fine until they lost the will (which was sent by the most recorded/tracked/guaranteed service as well - apparently didn't get there).

 

Doing it that way does add an extra chance for a screw up in that someone has to marry the physical will to your online application.  Does seem a recipe for disaster.  Can’t see that a determination to move all applications online will be an improvement.  Doing it all with pen and paper and using snail mail last year I got the email to say they’d received it within days and probate granted a couple of weeks later both times.

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1 minute ago, hightail said:

 

Doing it that way does add an extra chance for a screw up in that someone has to marry the physical will to your online application.  Does seem a recipe for disaster.  Can’t see that a determination to move all applications online will be an improvement.  Doing it all with pen and paper and using snail mail last year I got the email to say they’d received it within days and probate granted a couple of weeks later both times.

 

Well, I'm not having that luck. A quick google shows that I'm not the only one either.

 

It's very hit and miss it seems.

 

Currently, I'm looking for some recourse, as this is eating my and my sister's inheritance up in interest and government fees, when it should have been a cut and shut case.

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Seeing your posts I am feeling very grateful that the online process was not available last year when I first had to apply so didn’t choose it for the second one.  Paying the fee was my big problem as that had to be done over the phone but other than that I had no issues.  I am convinced that sending all documentation in one package to one place was no bad thing.

 

Other than waiting on the ombudsman I’m not sure where you can look to.  

 

 

 

 

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Complain. First (as you've already complained), escalate the complaint to the CEO for HM Courts and Tribunal Service.

Ask for an acknowledgement of the complaint, and the timescale for the reply.

 

Then (if they don't sort it), go back to your MP, but ask them (if they again say "can't do anything") to pass it to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

 

Evaluate your losses. That is, identify the extra costs involved;

you want them to put you back in the position (financially) that you would have been had they not spectacularly and repeatedly fouled it up  (noting that it was reasonably foreseeable that you'd incur losses, and they arise as a direct consequence of their errors).

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12 hours ago, BazzaS said:

Complain. First (as you've already complained), escalate the complaint to the CEO for HM Courts and Tribunal Service.

Ask for an acknowledgement of the complaint, and the timescale for the reply.

 

Then (if they don't sort it), go back to your MP, but ask them (if they again say "can't do anything") to pass it to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

 

Evaluate your losses. That is, identify the extra costs involved;

you want them to put you back in the position (financially) that you would have been had they not spectacularly and repeatedly fouled it up  (noting that it was reasonably foreseeable that you'd incur losses, and they arise as a direct consequence of their errors).

 

Hi.

 

Thanks for this. I will do exactly that.

 

The losses to me are almost negligible - well, around 2k in interest etc... It's the extra stamp duty that the poor buyers of my uncle's property are going to have to stomach if this doesn't get sorted shortly, that is the big financial loss.

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