The Courts in South Australia are managed by the Courts Administration Authority. You may have heard that the Courts Administration Authority is overhauling its case management system. These changes will mean a website portal will become the main way documents are filed and handled across all of the Courts.
The first section of the Courts to go digital is the Probate Registry of the Supreme Court. Digital lodgement in the Probate Registry now applies, coming into effect from 26 November 2018. The civil jurisdiction of all Courts (Magistrates Court, District Court and Supreme Court) are scheduled to go online in late 2019 and the criminal jurisdiction is scheduled for late 2020. All these portals will operate under the name CourtSA.
We have outlined below what we know about CourtSA so far.
Firstly, here's a very quick crash course in how the Probate Registry used to look.
- The Probate Registry is the section of the Supreme Court that deals with applications for Grants of Probate and Letters of Administration, which is the paperwork required to deal deceased estates.
- Until now everything was submitted to the Probate Registry in paper form.
- There are more than 70 forms and over 90 rules which attempt to catch the majority of different situations which could arise when someone dies.
- The processing time with the Probate Registry – the time between an application being lodged and the final application being received – varied between three and 13 weeks and sometimes even longer.
CourtSA will be the portal through which applications are made and both lawyers and personal applicants will be required to register with CourtSA.
Once the registration process is complete and the user is logged into the portal, they will be greeted by a hub in which they can check the status of previous applications, file new documents in ongoing files or start a new file.
The online applications
The application process on CourtSA is based around a 'smart form'. This is a series of questions which aim to steer the applicant through a complicated process; the questions change, depending on the answers given to previous questions.
The original will, if there is one, still needs to be submitted to the Probate Registry for review. If there are any problems with the will, the Probate Registry may require further evidence before a Grant can be issued.
If the estate – including the will and other aspects - is straightforward and without complexity, the 'smart form' element of the application may be all that is required. If further evidence or detail is required – for example, affidavits in relation to alias, plight and condition, due execution and so on – the paper forms will still need to be completed, before being scanned and delivered to the Registry via the online portal.
There will be some situations in which the original will must be collected from the Registry to allow for further evidence to be properly obtained.
The Registry has indicated that once the system is up and running, the processing time should be reduced to a number of days, rather than a number of weeks.
At 1pm on the first day of the new system we filed our first application for a Grant of Probate. On the second day we lodged the original will with the Probate Registry. At approximately 11am, we received our first Grant of Probate. A turnaround time of under 24 hours is a vast improvement on the processing times previously experienced. It is likely that the turnaround time will increase marginally once the system builds up a backlog.
The new system is likely to streamline straightforward applications. However, in our experience the vast majority of deceased estates tend not to be straightforward. There are often complexities which need to be dealt with throughout the application process and the 'smart form' may not necessarily highlight, capture or explain these issues and how to solve them.
With the Probate Registry often incurring the longest waiting times in our legal system, the news that estate administration is likely to speed up under the new process will be welcomed by clients and lawyers alike.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.