Steps are being taken to ease lockdown restrictions; however, life is still a long way from being back to normal. Following our article in May when we discussed Wills, Probate and Powers of Attorney under lockdown, this article looks in more detail at the issue of administering a person’s estate during the pandemic.
- What is Probate?
When a person dies, somebody has to deal with gathering in their assets, paying any money that’s owed and then distributing what’s left in accordance with the person’s Will (if they have one) or the intestacy rules (if they don’t).
If the person held assets in their sole name, legal authority may be required to allow the person administering the estate to collect in that money. This authority (in the form of a court order) is known as the Grant of Probate (if there is a Will) or Letters of Administration (if there is not)
- How is Probate obtained?
The Executor of the estate appointed by the Will, or the Administrator if there is no Will, has to obtain values for all of the assets held by the person who has died and ascertain whether inheritance tax is due. Whether tax is due or not, inheritance tax forms have to be completed and submitted before Probate will be granted.
This can be a complicated process and many people choose to appoint a solicitor to assist them with the administration.
- Can I get Probate during lockdown?
Absolutely, although it may be a slightly more complicated process. Some of the people and institutions that need to be contacted to get valuations for estate assets are closed or running with reduced staff numbers. Companies such as estate agents are reopening now and so valuing properties is becoming easier. With other institutions such as banks, it may take a little longer, but it should be possible to get the information you need by post and/or email.
The submission process for applications has also been updated to reflect lockdown, with much now being done digitally, rather than on paper. The probate registries are anticipating a spike in applications and so are training and recruiting additional staff to keep things running as smoothly as possible.
- Can I instruct a solicitor during the pandemic?
Of course! Dawson Hart has put together new procedures and policies to enable us to take instructions by phone or video call and to liaise with clients by email or phone wherever possible. This minimises how many people are coming to the office and cuts down on documents and paperwork being handled by multiple people.
- How can I register a death during lockdown?
Most register offices are currently closed to visitors. However, generally it is possible to arrange a telephone appointment to register the death and order death certificates, which can be sent to you by post. Go to the government’s website for more information at: https://www.gov.uk/register-offices
- Once Probate is obtained, can I deal with settling estate liabilities and making distributions?
As with obtaining valuations, collecting money in to pay liabilities and then make distributions may take slightly longer than normal due to decreased staffing levels and manpower operating at the relevant financial institutions, however with perseverance it is still perfectly possible to get this done.
- How quickly does Probate need to be obtained?
Probate should be obtained within a year of the person’s death and if inheritance tax is due, interest will begin to accrue on the sum due at the end of the sixth month after the person dies. However, Probate does not usually need to be dealt with immediately. Losing somebody close to you is stressful at the best of times, let alone under lockdown. Take things one step at a time and get as much help as you need. Follow government advice regarding social distancing or visiting other households to look for information or paperwork. In dealing with these matters, it is important that you do not put yourself or others at risk.
If you would like to discuss any of the topics mentioned in this article further, please get in touch with Elizabeth Mitchell in our Private Client department and we would be very happy to assist.
The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.