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The online 'MyHMCTS' portal

View profile for Sophie Holmes
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Can I make a Will during lockdown?

Plans to make applying for Grants of Representation more accessible and streamlined were introduced by the UK Government in 2017 and applications via the MyHMCTS portal, an online case management tool for legal professionals, became mandatory in November 2020. The change represents part of HMCTS’s £1bn programme of court reform which they say is intended to bring new technology and modern ways of working to the justice system.

The statutory change means that most applications for Probate must now be submitted via the portal unless they fall within the list of permitted exceptions covering more complex applications, such as an application to prove a copy Will or those in respect of a foreign Will.

Similarly, an application for a Grant of Letters of Administration can only be made via the portal if specific conditions are met and, if not, must otherwise be submitted as a traditional paper application.

Applications via the portal now serve to replace the information previously declared to the registry via the Oath/Statements of Truth and now automatically generate a Statement of Truth that can be signed by the applicant or the Probate Practitioner submitting the application.

However, despite the intended benefits of the new system, significant inconsistencies with online applications have caused delays and frustration for legal professionals and clients at what is already a stressful and emotional time.

A handful of applications are issued within a week or two whilst others take significantly longer and with no obvious explanation for the inconsistency that can be relayed to clients.

Additional issues have been encountered where an application is ‘stopped’ whilst a request for further examination, information or documents is made. Often the application goes to the back of the queue once the desired information has been provided and can take months to be picked back up by the registry.

Legal professionals are also unable to track where in the queue their application sits relative to other applications which is problematic when the registry are experiencing a high volume of work generally. In these circumstances it is essentially a best guess when providing clients with an approximate timescale for the Grant to be issued and, although professionals can in theory check the status of their application once it has been worked on, the registry will typically assess and issue the grant in less than one hour providing that they do not have any further queries to raise therefore the tracking feature is of little use.

Such a move to an online system was viewed by many as the logical progression for the courts and tribunals anyway and a progression for which the pandemic acted as a catalyst, providing flexibility to allow teams to adopt hybrid or home working in the same way that many businesses have similarly had to adapt. In reality though, the majority of the documents forming the application do still need to be submitted by post (e.g. the Will, IHT205 in certain circumstances) meaning that the registry do need to marry up documents before the application can even be considered, and that the job of legal professionals is not necessarily made easier by the change.

This said, it is difficult to consider a system where the registry would not require documents to be submitted by post at all when original Wills and codicils are currently still forensically examined as part of the application process, unless a drastic move like that of the Land Registry (who can now accept copies of certified documents in applications made by conveyancers) was made.

Nonetheless, it is intended that HM Courts and Tribunals Service will add more features in time and extend the pool of applications that can currently be made via the portal. Ultimately, it remains to be seen whether the Registry would make such significant a change that would computerise the process completely. 

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