Behind The Scenes At The Probate Registry

June 22, 2023

“We’re helping people honour their loved one’s last wishes”

Rainu Khurana and Rosie Shore take us behind the scenes at the Probate Registry; from the challenges of missing or conflicting information in grant applications to the rewards of helping families move on with their lives.

With the Probate Service under the microscope due to an increase in demand as receipts rise, we spoke to two members of the team responsible for handling applications to find out what it’s really like on the ground.

Rainu Khurana and Rosie Shore are Support Officers at the Birmingham-based Courts and Tribunals Service Centre (CTSC). Having previously worked within the Social Security and Child Support Tribunal department, they each brought strong skills and experience with them when they joined the probate team in summer 2020.

While Rainu’s main role is to examine applications and support her colleagues, she has also received specialist training to work on more complex cases, including where the original will has been lost.

Like her colleague, Rosie is responsible for examining applications and since last October, she has also been a Pop-Up Development Coach, involved in training many of the new recruits who have joined the service over the past few months.

What comes across clearly from each of them is the passion for their job and the desire to help people. We asked them, ‘what is the most rewarding part of their role?’.

Rainu says: “For me, it is getting that grant out of the door and enabling people to move on with their lives. Although they will never get over the loss, going through the probate process allows the executor to honour their loved one’s last wishes and distribute the estate according to that will.

“Until then, it’s like their life is on hold, I have lost family members myself, so I know they are going through a very difficult time. It’s very rewarding when you pick up that application and see it right through to the end. If the application is correct and does not need to be stopped for any reason the process of issuing the Grant is seamless.”

Rosie agrees, saying: “For me, it’s when we’re on the phone to an applicant and you’re able to hear the relief once a grant has been issued. You know you have helped someone, you’ve actually changed someone’s life and they are able to move forward with their lives and get closure.

“We all know this is a difficult time for those who have lost people, they don’t want to be contacting us, so for us to be able to give good news – you can’t really beat that.”

While applications are the priority for Rainu, she uses her experience to provide support and mentoring. “I have quite a few people in my team and four or five of them are very new to handling calls and examining, so part of my day when I am in the Office will be helping and supporting them whilst I am examining” she says. “There is lots of support around– no-one is left to struggle on their own. We really do work well as a team to achieve our common goal and I love that element of the job.”

Applications for probate vary from the ‘quite straightforward’ to more complex cases requiring calls to the applicants to garner more information. Rainu says this can range from missing information and forms not filled in correctly, to conflicting information – or simple things such as wrong or different dates or spellings of names.

“If there is any conflicting or missing information, we have to stop the application,” she explains. “There are so many different reasons and sometimes I need to call applicants to reassure them the case is being managed and we’re doing everything in our power to get the grant issued.”

Both agree that information required around Inheritance Tax (IHT) is one of the main issues that contributes to delays and leads to applications being put on stop.

“We get a lot of applicants contacting us when they shouldn’t to ask questions on IHT, people want to know how to value the estate and they don’t understand the tax procedures.  We’re working with HMRC to help people and make the system simpler,” continues Rainu.

“Until you have to do probate, you don’t understand how difficult the journey is for service users. I see every applicant as vulnerable, they are grieving and having to deal with a process which is both daunting and confusing, the number of people who don’t know what they need to do to declare the IHT figures is overwhelming and does cause delays.”

While the team’s role is to signpost applicants as part of their duty of care, what they can’t do is tell them how to value the estate. Rather they will tell them to speak to HMRC to obtain the support they need to continue with the application.

Rosie says: “We say to people that while we can guide them from a probate point of view, we can’t tell them how much IHT to pay or which IHT forms to fill in. We’re not IHT advisers but we can say ‘this is what you need to do. We do everything we can to help, although we can only do a certain amount due to us not being able to provide inheritance tax advice.”

Rosie’s position as a Pop-Up Development Coach began last October, a role she applied for alongside her Support Officer role. It means giving probate training to the cohorts of new recruits the service has taken on in recent months while still managing day-to-day application examinations and handling calls.

So far, she has worked with three academies of newcomers, around 40 people in total. Apart from the initial two-week online induction course, all ongoing training is conducted face-to-face with development coaches like Rosie.

She explains that the academy period comprises of an extensive six-week training course, starting from the learning the basics, working up to taking calls and doing web chats and emails with applicants.

“When you are learning something new it takes time, by about week three it starts to click with them, especially when they start talking to the applicants because then they start to understand the user journey as well,” she says. “It’s a challenge because we have to simplify things and some areas of probate you just can’t simplify because of the legalities around it.

“We have a lot of teams and groups they can talk to; we have a Q&A channel, we have specialist subject matter experts on site and across our Registries who have decades of invaluable knowledge, so there is always support available.

“What I enjoy is that it’s really nice to see like a fresh canvas, to introduce them to probate and get them learning about it from the beginning. It’s really good to see their knowledge build up and see them gain confidence when talking to applicants and other people we deal with, such as solicitors.”

With more complex cases, a team member will ‘own’ the application throughout. Rainu’s specialist training means she looks after applications where the original will is missing and a copy will is sent instead.

“There’s a lot more work involved and it takes longer because essentially you are doing two processes,” she says. “You start with the normal examination and the applicant then has to submit a lost will questionnaire, which you examine to make sure all the information is correct and also ascertain if anybody is prejudiced by the copy will being proved.

“Nine times out of 10 it’s the prejudiced information that’s outstanding, there’s a lot of back and forth with applicant and subject matter experts at the Registry about what’s needed, letting them know you are monitoring the case closely and you’re referring it to the Registrar to make the final order to prove the copy will. I find it rewarding when you’ve been through the whole process to get that grant finally resolved.”

The topic of delays in the time it takes for grants of probate to be issued has been widely covered and we asked both Rosie and Rainu what their message would be to both families and charities who are waiting for closure and for legacies to arrive.

Rainu: “My message is to try and reassure people that we are doing everything we can to work on those cases. More people are getting trained on the more complex cases and that will help; more people are being trained on examining to help alleviate the backlog; and people are doing the very best that they can to get the grants issued. But there are also things people can do to help. The most important thing is to organise Inheritance Tax correctly. If we don’t have the correct documents or the estate figures we can’t issue applications whether they’re from personal applicants or probate professionals.

“We are aware some cases are more urgent than others and we do exercise humanity and compassion where a case genuinely needs to be expedited, fast tracking it and doing everything in our power to get that grant of probate issued.

“We are also aware there are cases that go over the 16 weeks, we have an escalation process and measures in place to deal with those, and we are doing everything we can to get the grants issued as quickly as we can.”

Rosie concurs, adding: “We are human, we’re doing our best and we 100% want to get grants done as well.

“We understand everyone is struggling, they are going through hardships, especially at the moment with the cost-of-living crisis. We know charities are struggling, applicants are struggling, and on top of that they have lost someone; so we are doing our best to get this done for them.

“We are continuing to improve and hopefully fingers crossed, in the near future, we hope to continue improving to enable us to help applicants get the closure they need.


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