Solicitor and other probate practitioners will have to apply online for grants of probate or letters of administration, under government proposals published today.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said probate reform – part of the wider £1bn court modernisation programme – was expected to generate savings of £20m over a 10-year period.
The Probate Service issues around 260,000 grants each year; 180,000 applications are made by solicitors and other probate practitioners, with the rest by individuals.
An online application pilot began in November 2017 and was rolled out to all practitioners last October, with user feedback showing the majority of users satisfied with the service.
In April, the president of the Family Division issued practice guidance enabling statements of truth – which can be submitted electronically – to be used as an alternative to affidavits, giving online processes a significant boost.
The MoJ said that, although this was designed to assist professional users during the coronavirus pandemic, “consideration is being given to this being made a permanent change via amendment to the non-contentious probate rules”.
The consultation published this morning proposed that all but four probate processes should go online. The exceptions are:
- Where there are multiple applicants entitled under intestacy, although work is underway to enable this;
- Rule 31 – grants to attorneys, only where the attorney is not an existing probate professional able to use the online service;
- Rule 36 – trust corporation applications, although work is advanced on these applications moving online too; and
- Rule 39 – resealing under Colonial Probates Acts. These applications continue to require an affidavit, rather than a statement of truth.
The consultation said moving to an online process would save professional users money and time, and deliver “a more efficient and reliable system” that provided immediate notification of receipt and allowed applications to be tracked and monitored.
“The online system reduces the risk of making errors on applications, such as missing a section which has to be completed. It offers a built-in checklist which is designed to be user-friendly (and has been built following consultation and feedback with other professional users),” it added.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “Our online probate services are simpler, quicker and more reliable – reducing the cost of erroneous forms and saving the taxpayer money.
“We urge legal professionals to respond to the consultation and help us move towards a more efficient process of handling probate applications.”