The probate process can be difficult and emotional at the best of times. With the country on lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, many are increasingly concerned about how to proceed with the matters arising following a death.
While it is still possible to carry out the probate process at the moment, certain elements have been adapted to reflect the social distancing measures in place. These are impacting on everything from registering deaths and notifying asset holders to getting assets valued and applying for a Grant of Probate.
Changes to how and where deaths can be registered.
The Coronavirus Bill has recently amended where and how deaths can be registered, on a temporary basis. Deaths can now be registered over the phone and cause of death certificates issued by doctors, which ordinarily have to be presented in person, can now be submitted electronically.
In addition, it is now possible for a funeral director who is responsible for the arrangement of the funeral to register the death; so long as they are authorised to provide the information to the registrar by a relative.
Notifying asset holders
Usually you would need to present an original death certificate to an asset holder either by going into a branch or by post.
A number of bank and investment companies have now launched online portals where you can upload information from the death certificate to assist with the notification process, instead of having to present or post in an original death certificate. However, different asset holders have different processes and requirements, so it is a good idea to check what a specific organisation’s requirements are in the current circumstances.
Applying for a Grant of Probate
The HM Courts & Tribunals Service recently launched an online probate service for legal professionals representing executors. This now includes a new feature which also allows professional users to apply for most types of Grants of Representation online. As part of this, firms no longer need to complete paper statements of truth and can also manage and monitor all their probate applications submitted this way through an online dashboard.
Inevitably Grants are taking longer to obtain from the Probate Registry in these unprecedented times with applications being dealt with on a strict date of application basis.
During the lockdown, HMRC-IHT will allow the agent acting on behalf of an estate to sign on behalf of the personal representative or trustees, so long as the named account remains the same.
If a change of account is needed all parties who originally signed the IHT 400 or IHT 100 forms must still sign the letter. However, HMRC-IHT will recognise printed signatures for these forms if a professional agent is acting on behalf of the estate and
- The names and other personal details of the legal personal representatives or trustees are shown on the declaration page
- The account includes a clear statement from the agent to confirm that all the legal personal representatives or trustees have seen the account and have agreed to be bound by the declaration.
Paying inheritance tax
If an estate is subject to Inheritance Tax (IHT), the estate will still be required to settle all IHT due on the cash assets before probate is granted and generally executors will want to pay as much of the tax as possible by the end of the sixth month from date of death. After this period, interest will begin to accrue. HMRC-IHT has not issued any guidance to suggest these deadlines will be relaxed during COVID-19.
It is worth noting that the IHT rates of interest were reduced on 7 April 2020 to 2.60% for late payments and 0.50% on repayments.
However, HMRC-IHT has said it will no longer be accepting cheques for IHT payments and will also not make repayments using payable orders or cheques.
Until the restrictions are lifted, those acting on behalf of the estate, personal representatives or trustees are advised to use the faster payments (FPI) system or telephone banking facilities, CHAPS or Bacs to HMRC’s account.
Receipts for payment of IHT are taking longer to process at present and this will delay a Grant application moving forward and therefore executors need to be prepared for a longer turnaround time.
Getting assets valued
All estate assets still need to be valued before applying for the Grant of Probate, as IHT still needs to be paid in the usual way and within the usual deadlines. However, financial assets can be valued in much the same way as they are normally. Banks and building societies can still provide date of death balances for bank accounts, stockbrokers can be contacted for portfolio valuations and shares can be valued using historical market data.
Due to the lock-down, requests for information can take longer than usual and it is, therefore, important that executors make sure they are taking a proactive approach to estate administration.
The valuation of physical assets, such as buildings, land and personal possessions is more complicated at the present time. To value such assets requires a physical valuation and, often, travel. Given the current restrictions, not all agents are able to offer such a service at the moment. However, through considered selection of suitably qualified local agents and careful planning as to how the lockdown restrictions can be respected, it is possible for executors to obtain valuations and ensure that they are complying with their duties.
It is important to be cautious and take expert advice to ensure you get realty probate valuations right at this time, especially as there can be tax implications.
Finalising the deceased’s tax affairs
It is still possible to communicate with HMRC, both by telephone and in writing. HMRC is, however, operating at a reduced service and so it is now important, more than ever to ensure that any potential queries or complications are ironed out at an early stage with HMRC.
Inevitably, due to HMRC’s reduced workforce and with many working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are delays at HMRC and extended waiting times when contacting HMRC by phone.
Although a lot of the process can be done online, it is likely that the process may take slightly longer than usual.
It is difficult to say how much longer processes will take at the moment due to these unprecedented times. The situation is evolving on an almost daily basis. However with the right advice and support, it is perfectly possible to guide clients through the probate process at the moment.
This article originally appeared in ePrivate Client https://www.paminsight.com/epc/article/answering-key-questions-about-probate-process-during-coronavirus-pandemic