Work continues to improve England and Wales online probate system

Monday, 22 February 2021
HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has announced a series of new developments in its digital probate service, with further changes on the way to incorporate user feedback.
Probate paper form

Practitioners in England and Wales have, in principle, been obliged to use the MyHMCTS online system for most grant applications since November 2020, although technical limitations, combined with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, forced the Ministry of Justice to extend the deadline into 2021. Many practitioners have submitted feedback asking for improvements.

STEP has been engaging with HMCTS on a number of issues raised by members over the online probate system and delays, and HMCTS has now announced a number of updates to address these concerns, including:

  • fixing a problem on the digital intestacy pages whereby applicant spouses and civil partners were blocked from applying if they indicated they had siblings;
  • rewording a confusing question in the 'deceased details' section. Instead of 'Please state the grounds for making this application and information in support', it now reads 'Please state the title and clearing for making the application, limitations and any information in support'; and
  • changing default MyHMCTS login settings so that users automatically see all of their cases immediately.

Two new supporting forms have been created: the PA17 renunciation form for partners, members, shareholders or directors in a firm to give up their right as an executor and the PA18 pre-lodgement form for complex enquiries.

Further improvements planned include:

  • a 'case progress' tab on the MyHMCTS dashboard, to help users manage and track the progress of their ongoing cases and to make the process of amending an application clearer and more intuitive, to help practitioners update clients on the progress of a case;
  • a major update that will allow trust corporations to submit applications via the online system. This will be followed by improvements to the process followed where partners, members, shareholders and directors in a firm or successor firm are named in the will. It will also allow probate practitioners to sign the PDF legal statement on behalf of their clients for every application submitted via MyHMCTS;
  • a function to allow probate practitioners to share cases with other members of their firm, company or corporation; and
  • new versions of forms PA1A, PA1P and PA8A for use by both personal applicants and probate practitioners.

The system will soon warn users to wait 20 working days after submitting their IHT400 to HMRC before submitting their application to HMCTS. This will ensure that the IHT421 is available when HMCTS processes the application, resulting in fewer cases being stopped and delayed as a result of the IHT421 being unavailable. HMCTS has already issued advice to this effect, but building it into the system will help to align its systems with those of HMRC.

HMCTS has also warned probate practitioners of the risk of accidentally creating duplicate applications. Some probate practitioners, when lodging an application online via MyHMCTS, also complete and submit a paper (PA1A/PA1P) form alongside their supporting documents for their online application. However, HMCTS's automated bulk scanning process reads this paper form as a separate application, thereby creating a duplicate case and charging an extra fee to the practitioner's account. This forces HMCTS to identify and refund these duplicate cases, delaying the online application. HMCTS is therefore asking practitioners not to send a separate paper application if they have made the application online via MyHMCTS.

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