My husband died in May 2022 at the age of 52, leaving me and our three children. I applied for probate over a year ago but, even though I have complained, it has still not been granted. I feel in total despair at the Kafkaesque situation I am in.

Whilst, thankfully, we have capital to live on (our bank transferred our joint accounts into my name), I’m not able to access and organise other savings, or sell our house, which I want to do before our fixed-rate mortgage ends.

We are British, his will was written in the UK, and it straightforwardly left everything to me. But he died in Switzerland, where he was working as a diplomat with the UK mission when his cancer was diagnosed.

Following his death, I had to spend a number of months dealing with the Swiss authorities, including securing the release of his will [which had to be handed in]. In March 2023, I applied by post for probate [in the UK] using a certified copy of the will, and then sent the original in August when it was released by the Swiss.

In October, I spoke to someone at the probate service who said the will had been sent to the wrong office, but he would send it to the right one and mark it as a priority, given the length of time that had already passed.

It took until December to speak to another person there (the “track your application online” function has never worked when I’ve tried), who said the same thing.

I asked to make a complaint and received an email in February saying they would look into it. I emailed again in March but have still heard nothing. This year, it has been impossible to get through on the phone.

I emailed again today as it’s now been over a year since I applied and two since my husband died. I feel trapped by a faceless bureaucracy which is making me increasingly anxious and depressed.

LG by email

I was sorry to read of the extraordinary delay you have suffered, which has made a terrible situation worse. For readers who have not dealt with the legal side of a death, you usually need a “grant of probate” if an estate includes property. It is a legal document giving the named person authority to access bank accounts, sell assets and settle debts.

This is not the first time we have written about probate delays. They stem from an ambitious and ill-starred revamp of the service, run by the HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), begun in 2019.

The shake-up sought to shift applications online and replace regional offices with a centralised service run out of Birmingham. But, as often seems to be the case with government projects, it did not go to plan.

Indeed, concerns about mounting probate delays (waiting times doubled in the year to April 2023) prompted this year’s inquiry by the justice select committee.

Because of the election, it will not produce a final verdict but, in a letter sent at the end of last month to the Ministry of Justice, it stated that the “collapse of the Probate Registry was a failure to understand the magnitude of the centralisation and digitisation projects, and a failure to appreciate the importance of an experienced and skilled workforce”.

Even amid this upheaval HMCTS insists your experience is not the norm, with paper applications taking roughly 17 weeks at the moment, while digital ones (about 80%) take just over six.

Applications stopped, pending further information, take on average 34 weeks. Only a tiny number – 0.3% – take more than a year.

This works out at an average of 9.3 weeks for probate, which is not much to shout about given experienced legal hands say the turnaround time delivered by the old service was two to four weeks.

To tackle the backlog, HMCTS has recruited more than 100 new staff and at the end of February the number of “workable” cases stood at 44,091, the lowest since February 2023, with further progress expected by autumn.

It seems you are a part of a small, unlucky group. Thankfully, after I raised the situation, the process sped up and the grant was issued.

HMCTS says: “We apologise wholeheartedly for the delay to this application which has now been issued. Most applications take around nine weeks and we are continually working to improve processing times.”

It is a relief, you tell me, to be able to “get things sorted” for your children, but you are left feeling a “bit hollow” because of the many challenges you have faced since your husband died.

You mistakenly sent the will to the wrong office but it should not have resulted in this terrible delay.

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