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Published 25th August 2020 | Probate & Power of Attorney

A guide to Probate during the Coronavirus crisis

Probate is the term used for the steps involved in acquiring an estate after someone dies. COVID-19 has changed things, so here is some advice on what you should do during the coronavirus situation when a loved one passes away.

Whether a loved one passes away with a Coronavirus related complication or not, as Executor of the Will you may have to apply for Probate before any assets can be distributed, accounts closed, or debts and taxes paid.

The truth is that the 11 steps required to apply for probate are just the same, however, delays have been happening since the Coronavirus pandemic reached the UK. The measures relating to COVID-19 have meant that the Probate process, which usually takes three to four months, has been known to take many weeks or months longer.

It’s important to determine early on whether any assets are jointly owned (such as the case with a married couple). If the estate is made up of low value assets, Probate is not required and it’s a much quicker and simpler process. 

When making a Probate application, we recommend that you contact our specialised Probate team who will be able to talk you through the process and ensure the correct procedure is adhered to, preventing further delays. Measures will be in place such as electronic processing where paper and face-to-face declarations may have previously been used.

As lockdown eases, delays are getting shorter. However, social distancing is implemented wherever possible during the process and the procedures the government put in place will remain should we go into lockdown again. We share how the outbreak has changed the Probate process, and what you should do in the case of applying for a Grant of Probate during these uncertain times.

How do I register a death at the moment?

Before any Probate application can be made, you must register the death with the deceased’s local registry office. As expected, there are delays, but telephone appointments are now being used in place of face to face contact.

How do I obtain the Will and LPA?

If you cannot find a physical copy of the deceased’s Will or find out where it may be stored, your solicitor will request the original Will, if there is one, as well as any LPA.

In the height of lockdown, solicitors were unable to access offices to get physical copies of Wills. However, as things have eased, this is becoming less of an issue.

If the deceased has not left a Will, or because the Will has been ruled as invalid due to some irregularity, you must apply to be appointed as Administrator of the estate to manage the deceased’s assets. Our probate team specialises in this and they will be able to carry out the process remotely.

Is there a time limit for applying for Probate?

In strict legal terms, there is no time limit for applying for Probate, and you will not be legally penalised for any delay. However, with the current crisis causing potential delays to the Probate process, we urge clients to apply as early as possible. If Inheritance Tax has to be paid, this has to be done within six months of the death to avoid any interest being charged.

But what about signing Probate documents?

To maintain social distancing, the Probate Registry is now accepting electronic signatures to documents. As well as this, they now accept legal statements which require a signature only in place of affidavits that had to be sworn in front of a solicitor. 

These are just some of the things that the industry has implemented over the past few months to reduce some of the issues in applying for Probate, that could otherwise cause further delays.

How do I get a property valued during the current crisis?

Getting a valuation of property and all assets, including funds in bank accounts, is necessary to obtaining a Grant of Probate, as well as to find out if the estate has to pay Inheritance Tax.

During lockdown physical valuations of property were almost completely suspended and in many cases estimations were used in place before corrected physical valuations could occur.

Luckily, as things have eased, physical valuations are taking place again. And in the case of another lockdown, or valuations being suspended again, many valuers will be able to get an online valuation done in place of physical inspections.

Can I contact banks, financial providers and pay debts remotely?

To assemble financial information, you should notify banks, building societies, mortgage lenders, credit card providers and insurance companies. There is no reason why contacting the deceased’s banks cannot be done without visiting the premises of organisations.

This can be done remotely by using deathnotificationservice.co.uk, which allows you to notify several banks and building societies of a person’s death at the same time, online and entirely remotely.

What about Inheritance Tax?

HMRC have amended the process to provide the ability to accept electronic signatures, once again where signatures were previously needed. Payment can now be done via bank transfer rather than cheques.

What if I need to sell a property under my Grant of Probate?

There may be delays before properties in estates are sold due to restrictions. For this reason, the beneficiaries may choose to have properties transferred in their names so that they can proceed with the sale at a later date.

The government have issued official guidance on the property sales process during the pandemic.

We are Probate Specialists

At Osborne Morris & Morgan Solicitors, we know applying for Probate is a crucial legal process where making a mistake could have far-reaching consequences. We will be able to guide you throughout the process and give you peace of mind of knowing that the correct procedures are being followed at all times.

If you are the Executor for a Will of someone who has recently died, please call our specialist team today on 01525 378177 or online and we shall be happy to answer any questions you might have about applying for Probate.

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Osborne Morris & Morgan is an award-winning firm of Bedfordshire solicitors with offices in Leighton Buzzard and Milton Keynes, servicing clients in the surrounding area and nationwide.

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