The Probate Service in England (which deals with administration of estates) is one of many public departments to have felt the strain of the coronavirus pandemic since lockdown restrictions were imposed. The past few months have seen a rise in the number of applications submitted, coupled with a reduced workforce. Naturally this has led to a backlog of applications and increased waiting times.

Historically, paper applications were submitted to a district probate registry to be considered for grant. Whilst the system has worked for many years, its flaws in time constraints, efficiency and reliability led to proposals to move online, which began in 2019. The pandemic has called for acceleration of the online initiative and from 2 November 2020, it will be mandatory for professional probate practitioners to start using the online service. 

The Probate Service should take comfort in the new system as we face greater uncertainty about tighter restrictions and ‘local lockdowns’ heading into winter. Having worked on various probate applications, the ability to consider applications from home should promote greater case management and enhance speed, traceability and reliance, and a move to less paper will bring multiple benefits.

Introducing a new mandatory system of application should be considered a welcome change for all probate applications, including those involving cross-border estates. Dealing with probate is never a pleasant experience for client families, and one they want to see the back of as quickly as possible. Although certain specifically excluded applications will be submitted in the traditional way, the bulk should now be dealt with online, which is a step in the right direction.