It has been a difficult time for families who have not only had to cope with the death of a loved one but to do so under coronavirus restrictions.
Probate is the entire process of administering a deceased person’s estate, e.g. dealing with money, debts, and personal possessions. In many cases, particularly where property is involved, an application to the Probate Registry is needed for a ‘Grant of Probate’ to enable the property to be sold. It can be a complicated process that has not been made easier by lockdown rules and many businesses temporarily closing their doors.
The coronavirus outbreak has also meant more people have had to sort out the financial affairs of a loved one after their death.
Should I defer applying for Probate until things get back to normal?
It is understandable that many have thought about deferring making an application for Probate until a later date to avoid the added practical problems created by the coronavirus outbreak.
With the country only just starting to surface from the lockdown, many businesses, local authorities and government bodies will be running on reduced services for some time to come. Reduced staffing and social distancing rules could make an often emotional and complicated process more time consuming, with longer waits than usual for Grants of Probate to be issued due to the backlog of applications.
You don’t need to start the Probate process immediately but you can still get the ball rolling at this time – and our advice is to do so as soon as you can.
It is certainly important not to leave things too long, particularly if the estate is subject to Inheritance Tax as Inheritance Tax must be paid at the end of the 6th month following the deceased’s death, to avoid any penalties and interest being charged. Executors should not delay the administration of the estate unnecessarily, although there is what is known as the ‘Executor’s year’ to enable the Executors sufficient time to collect in the assets, pay any debts and distribute the estate, although in some cases, more complex estates can take longer than a year to conclude. Executors should take care not to delay matters unnecessarily to avoid being criticised by the beneficiaries of the estate.
What does Probate involve?
In order to apply for Probate, it is necessary to value all of the assets as at the date of death, and also to ascertain any debts which may be owed. Assets can include money in bank accounts, savings, investments, property, and personal belongings. Any outstanding debts such as credit cards, loans or mortgages will need to be paid out of the estate, before any funds are distributed to the beneficiaries of the estate, although most creditors will be willing to freeze any interest on the accounts until Probate is granted and funds become available to satisfy the debts. The assets left after any debts have been paid will form the deceased’s residuary estate and should be distributed to beneficiaries according to the terms of their will.
If a person dies without a will they are classed as dying ‘Intestate’ and the estate must be distributed in accordance with the terms of the law.
Should I appoint someone to apply for Probate on my behalf?
One way of easing the burden of sorting out a loved one’s estate – especially during these challenging times – is to appoint a solicitor or Probate professional to deal with the administration of the estate.
Some people already nominate a solicitor or Probate specialist as an Executor in their will, but many look to family or friends instead. The Executor is responsible for either applying for Probate or instructing a Solicitor to make the application on his/her behalf. The costs of the administration of the estate can be paid out of the estate.
In some cases, Probate can be complicated and time consuming but many people feel confident enough to do it themselves. However, the death of a friend and loved one is often emotionally overwhelming. The task of having to carefully go through the deceased’s financial affairs and contact all of the financial institutions can be sometime time consuming and often frustrating.
It can be made even more burdensome with the added challenge of social distancing, self-isolating or shielding.
Talk through your Probate options before deciding
An experienced and specialist Probate solicitor will be happy to chat to you without obligation initially, and in confidence – about the process, what impact the coronavirus is having on the Probate process, and what support you need, before you have to make a decision.
Guidance about tackling the coronavirus (COVID-19) from the Government and NHS is changing rapidly but Birchall Blackburn Law’s legal specialists continue to move quickly to adapt to people’s needs. We can provide specialist Probate services from one of our several STEP qualified solicitors whilst helping you and our staff remain safe and well.
Like many businesses our team is working hard from home to assist people going through this uncertain time. We are still able to offer help and advice regarding obtaining Probate and dealing with Estate Administration, Wills, Powers of Attorney, and Court of Protection.
Please get in touch to talk about how we can work with you, whether you are self-isolating, shielding or ready for an appointment under social distancing guidelines.
Further reading: What is Probate?