Many people have found themselves having to deal with probate and estate administration matters during the COVID-19 pandemic - including thousands of families who have lost someone to Coronavirus.
The lockdown and ‘stay at home’ message has lead to significant delays and difficulties in applying for a grant of representation and as a result, the figures published in mid-May by HMCTS showed a 50% reduction in grant of representation applications.
What changed to cause this reduction?
Obtaining financial information
To apply for a grant, you need to obtain date of death figures for all assets owned by the deceased. In order to release information, the asset holder will require evidence of death (i.e. a death certificate). With many offices closed and staff working from home, dealing with these requests and, in particular, incoming post has become more protracted than usual.
Any land or buildings owned by the person who has died will also need to be valued. Whilst the strict lockdown measures were in place earlier this year virtually no valuations were able to be completed.
Now that the measures are becoming slightly more relaxed, surveys and valuations are beginning to take place but this has lead to quite a back log for many companies.
Lack of access to original documents
The original Will must be submitted when applying for a grant of probate and many have found themselves without access to such documents during lockdown.
Current timings for grant applications
HMCTS’ current published timescale is eight weeks from receipt of the application - even with the 50% reduction of applications.
Now that all of the above issues are running much more smoothly, it is possible that a surge of applications will follow. HMCTS’ update in June indicated that the number of applications was starting to pick up with more applications being submitted than grants being issued in an average week. However, with the higher than average death rate from COVID-19 and the majority of court staff still currently working from home, it is likely we will see more significant delays.
HMCTS have confirmed that they put in place a contingency plan in place to deal with the surge in applications including training court staff from different areas to deal with probate applications, a new ‘bulk scanning service’ allowing staff to deal with applications remotely and the recruitment of new members of staff.
Please be aware that even with the above difficulties, the deadline for payment of inheritance tax has remained the same with the first payment usually due within six months of date of death and executors must work towards this where possible.
Top tips to help the probate process run as efficiently as possible
- Check with asset holders whether they have an online portal that you can notify them of a customers passing. This should help avoid any delay in dealing with incoming post.
- Order a spare few death certificates so you do not have to wait for a copy to be returned from one company before notifying another.
- Pencil in a time with surveyors to attend the property as soon as you can. It may be that you have to wait a number of weeks after making contact.
- Locate the original Will and any Codicils as soon as you are able. These documents may be held somewhere that has a limited number of visits a week or month in the current climate and this should avoid any delay later on when you are ready to submit the grant application.