Obtaining a Grant of Probate during COVID-19
Probate: the current situation
The current death rate from Coronavirus has now sadly exceeded 50,000 people in the UK and worryingly this number is expected to continue to rise throughout the winter.
As the death rate rises, it is also anticipated that over the next couple of months the amount of probate applications made to the Probate Court will also increase. A record number of probates have already been issued so far this year.
With the UK in a national lockdown till 2nd December 2020 and then regions entering a tier system, it is expected that the probate process will experience further delays.
What is Probate?
Probate is the process of administering a deceased person’s estate. This involves organising their money, assets and possessions and distributing them accordingly to the rightful beneficiaries. This is known as the distribution of inheritance.
Access to a deceased person’s estate can only be gained once a legal document called a ‘Grant of Probate’ is obtained from the Probate Court.
The Probate process then officially ends once all taxes (including inheritance tax) and debts have been paid and all inheritance has been passed on.
Probate can be applied for regardless of whether a deceased person leaves a will or not prior to their death. However, the process is generally more straightforward if a will is left.
How Long does the Probate Process take?
Prior to the first national lockdown in March 2020, grants of probate on average were received within 6 – 12 months of an application being made at Court.
However, as a result of the current pandemic the probate process now takes longer than this. It is expected that the probate process will continue to be delayed as a result of the second national lockdown.
This is namely for various reasons including; banks waiting longer for information from HMRC, ID verification checks taking longer to process and The Courts taking longer to review and approve probate applications due to a lack of staff and resources.
What can I do to secure a Grant of Probate sooner rather than later?
You should look to instruct a solicitor at the earliest opportunity if you believe you may need a grant of probate. The longer you leave instructing a solicitor the longer it will take for beneficiaries to receive their inheritance.
Having all documentation to hand early on is also important. Relevant documentation which should be collated and provided to your solicitor include the deceased person’s; death certificate, will (if there is one), national insurance number, bank statements and deeds for any property owned.
Additionally, if property is owned by the deceased person it is advisable to arrange for a formal valuation of that property as early as possible.
In the event inheritance tax is due on the estate this will need to be reported and paid within 6 full months of the end of the month of deceased person’s death. The sooner this is paid or funding is obtained to pay this from a bank for example, the sooner a grant of probate can be obtained.