A grant of probate is the crucial legal document required to sell the home or assets of a person who has died. 

According to official statistics, the average waiting time for a grant has soared year on year from nine weeks to fifteen whilst lawyers say the documents ought to be turned around within a month of application.

These delays can cause serious financial hardship for families, leaving them unable to access funds to pay urgent bills. Banks will often release funds ahead of probate up to a certain threshold, usually £50,000; however a house cannot be sold until probate is granted. 

Delays can also risk interested parties having interest charges added to their inheritance tax bills if they are not paid within six months of death. With some waits reported as being 11 months, those who cannot pay are hit with interest charges of 7.75%. At this level, the interest will add £319 per week to the average inheritance tax bill of £214,000 – five months past the deadline resulting in a charge of around £6,800.

The former business secretary Jacob Rees Mogg recently said these higher bills were another reason the Government should scrap inheritance tax, but it would still leave probate delays as the main problem for bereaved families. He apparently went on to say the probate office needs to get back to work properly, following the example of the Passport Office which is now processing payments in a few days.

If only! I report this information as I’ve just had a call from a client bemoaning the fact she can’t proceed with the sale of her late fathers house as she’s unlikely to obtain probate until this time next year. So I have it first hand, something is very wrong with the system.

Chris Willey is an Independent Property Appraiser and welcomes sale related enquiries on Taunton 01823 412661.