Trust corporations will be allowed to apply for grants of probate for the first time this week, as part of efforts to improve the probate service ahead of a proposed fee increase.

HM Courts & Tribunals Service said trust corporations - traditionally created by private client law firms operating as separate legal entities - can apply for a grant online from Thursday 19 August, following requests from users. New prompts will also be introduced to MyHMCTS to make applications more straightforward, and solicitors will no longer be required to send a death certificate of any pre-deceased executors.

Last month, the Ministry of Justice announced plans to increase probate fees on the grounds that the current system operates at a loss and places an unfair burden on the taxpayer. Under the new proposals, fees to apply for a grant of probate will increase from £155 and £215 – for probate professionals and individuals respectively – to a flat fee of £273 for all applicants, regardless of the size of the estate.

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New prompts will be introduced to MyHMCTS to make applications more straightforward

Source: iStock

However, the Law Society described the increase as ‘unjustifiable’ given there are still ‘significant delays’ to the service. It is currently drafting a response to the government consultation, which closes on 23 September. 

According to figures published today, in June 2021 grants took an average 7.6 weeks to be issued after a probate application had been submitted. This is slightly higher than in June 2020 - at the height of lockdown - when the figure was 7.5 weeks.

Cases that are interrupted face significant delays, however, with stopped digital applications taking 10.19 weeks on average and stopped paper applications taking 17.48 weeks. HMCTS said cases are stopped for a variety of reasons, but the most common reasons include unexplained damage to wills or missing inheritance tax forms.

‘We understand that delays cause anxiety at a difficult time for applicants, so we’ve allocated more staff to progress stopped cases and reduce the time they take to be resolved,’ is said.

The Law Society has today published a survey seeking feedback from probate practitioners about the proposed fee increase. Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said: ‘We want to ensure that the changes won’t affect the viability of firms doing probate work or act as a barrier to vulnerable people who need to use this service.’

The survey will close on Friday 27 August.