Bereaved face 8-month wait to deal with wills

Families of people who die in Waterford are being forced to wait up to eight months before they can begin to deal with relatives’ wills due to waiting lists at the district probate office.

When a person dies, their house, money or land is inaccessible by their next-of-kin until they receive a grant of representation document from the High Court in Dublin or one of its 14 district probate registries.

The variation in waiting times range from two to four weeks in Wexford to a 30-32-week wait in Waterford. The Waterford probate registry dealt with just 307 cases last year while the Wexford office dealt with 452.

The delays are being blamed by the Courts Service on a lack of staffing and an IT system that is nearly 30 years old.

Co Donegal has the second worst waiting list at 16 weeks. Dublin has a waiting time of 14-16 but is authorised to not only take requests from Dublin but from the other 25 counties.

In Sligo, delays stand at 12-16 weeks, while in Galway and Roscommon there is a 12-week waiting list. In Kilkenny, the wait is between eight and 12 weeks.

In Cork, there’s only a six to eight-week delay while in Limerick a grant of representation is handed back in three weeks to people in Limerick and Clare.

According to the Courts Service, “waiting times vary and depend on a number of factors, including number of staff at each location and the volume of business transacted at each registry”.

The Principal Probate Registry in Dublin has 15 staff whose sole remit is probate while each district registry has generally one member of staff for whom probate is but part of their workload. The High Court in Dublin dealt with 7,837 cases last year while Cork dealt with 1,432, Donegal 212, and Kilkenny — which also looks after Carlow and Laois — 199.

“The work involved takes time to process as each application is comprised of a number of legal documents which must be examined in detail. In addition, as the technology driving the Probate process was built in the 1980s the Probate Office is challenged in delivering a more modern service,” a spokesman said.

The Probate Office has asked for funding to update its IT system and say “a more contemporary technology ... would go a considerable way in assisting a speedier turn around of applications for grants”.

Midlands North West MEP candidate Ronán Mullen said the delays are “creating financial hardship for people who in some instances, are having to borrow money from credit unions to pay for family funerals because they cannot access, sometimes the quite modest savings, of deceased relatives in a timely manner”.

“Given that the bereavement grant, which helped cover such expenses, has been abolished by the Government where death occurred after January 1 of this year, the need for grants of probate and administration to issue more promptly is even more real.”

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