Long-Term Empty? Protecting Probate Property Risks

'The exact number of probate properties caught up in the ongoing probate delays may not be known, but it would be reasonable to assume the volume is fairly sizeable.’

The fact the housing market is slower than perhaps a year ago is not helping.

It was also recently reported that the MoJ confirmed the number of probate cases taking at least a year to be granted has risen 65% in the past three years; similarly, the number of cases taking just under two years had also risen by 65%. Yet many will remember the ‘good old days’ – as recently as 2016 – when applications typically took no more than around 10 days.

The ramifications for personal representatives and beneficiaries as a result of lengthy delays can be huge, not to mention the uncertainties for home buyers wanting to purchase a probate property – but not knowing how long their anticipated purchase will be delayed.

In the meantime, many probate properties are lying empty and unoccupied – exposed to the elements, electrical faults and at increased risk of burglary and arson. The most important pre-emptive measure executors should be taking is to ensure empty probate properties are adequately insured.

Probate practitioners are reminded of Practice Enterprise’s own unoccupied property insurance product - Watchman Insurance. This is easy for executors to arrange, cost-effective and designed to cover the risk of residential properties which are unoccupied after the owner’s death (it is also available where the property owner has had to go into residential care).

Probate sales falling through

The Law Society has recently commented on the potentially catastrophic effect probate delays have on the deceased’s family; and the impact is undoubtedly filtering out more widely. House sales involving probate properties are falling through because of the problems.

STEP recently conducted a survey of probate practitioners and every lawyer had seen house sales cancelled because of the delays, with 76% saying they had experienced up to five cases where the sale fell through. The STEP survey followed the opening of an inquiry into the probate service in England and Wales.

While the number of probate properties is not known, the wider scale of empty properties is better known. In November 2023, there were officially 261,189 long term vacant residential properties (10% more than five years earlier).

Protect the risk

The scale of the above issues emphasises the importance of ensuring adequate insurance is in place to protect the risks related to empty probate properties. Watchman Insurance cover can be arranged on the same day by telephone from a friendly and knowledgeable team.

Importantly, unlike other policies, Watchman’s policy usually covers risks including malicious damage and subsidence. The property will need to be checked every 30 days, a much less onerous requirement than other policies that expect a check every 7 days.

Many other unoccupied residential property insurance policies also demand payment of an upfront premium, which can exacerbate any cashflow issues. There is no such requirement with the Watchman policy – only a small initial deposit is required for cover to be in place.

Cover is calculated at a fixed daily rate; and the full insurance premium is then paid on completion of the sale or (if earlier) within 12 months. Also, there are no hidden charges or cancellation fees.

Lastly, the PRs (as the trustees of the estate assets) should be reminded to check for and identify any potential risks. That could be arranging for regular practical checks of the property, disconnecting water and gas, removing valuables from external view and sealing letter boxes and cat flaps. These protective practical steps should not be forgotten.

For more information and a quote, contact us here


Posted on 05.06.24