How has COVID affected the probate process?

Posted 22nd Jul 2020 in Private Client

At the moment there is a lot of talk in the media about just how long it is taking to process a probate claim.

While COVID-19 has obviously played a part in the slowdown, the delays arguably started before the pandemic.

In 2019 there was a huge rise in the number of probate applications as people sought to beat the proposed probate fee increase.  By coincidence, at the same time new processing procedures were being introduced as a response to the closure of regional probate registries while the sudden spike in applications caused a bottleneck at HMRC that delayed the return of IHT receipts by up to 5 working weeks.

And just as the backlog was starting to clear, COVID-19 struck.

As it has in every part of our lives, COVID has had a massive effect on the probate process.  In fairness to the relevant authorities, efforts have been made to address some of the administrative and procedural elements involved.  However, there are still aspects causing significant delays that the families and friends trying to achieve a grant of probate need to be aware of:

Registering deaths

You can still register a death with your local registry office but be prepared for a telephone meeting rather than meeting in person.

Arranging funerals

Social distancing measures still apply to funerals but these are subject to change so it is vital you check the current situation with the government and/or your funeral directors before making arrangements.

Signing the required documents

To make things easier the probate registry will now accept an electronic signature which means solicitors and clients can exchange documents via email rather in hard copy.  In addition there is a new style probate application form PA1P which replaces the Statement of Truth.  Helpfully HMRC have now confirmed they will also accept electronic signatures on Inheritance Tax (IHT) forms.

Payments to HMRC

First of all to make the process more efficient, any payment you make to HMRC should be made by bank transfer.

However, it should be noted that any payment being made at the moment is probably going to be based on an estimate of the relevant assets and properties rather than a more official valuation until things get back to normal.  This is fine as long as you clearly state you have used an estimate and are prepared to revisit the figures at a later date if required.

Likely delays due to the current restrictions

As the majority of HMRC and the probate registry’s staff are still working at homes is likely to mean paperwork is processed more slowly than usual.  It is probably prudent to expect a delay of at least 4 months between making a probate application and receiving your grant of probate.

Likely delays to property sales

Although the property market is starting to move again, selling the properties involved in an Estate is still likely to take longer than usual.   If you find your attempts to sell a property have been delayed for any reason, why not get in touch?  We can talk you thought the other options available to you.

Even though it is difficult to give you any assurance as to exactly how long it will take to receive a grant of probate at the moment, the one thing you need to be sure of is your solicitor will keep you completely up to date (even though that’ll have to be by phone and email for now).

This is an assurance we can offer.

While all of the factors we’ve listed here are likely to make the probate process last longer than usual, we have made sure we’re set up to control what we can control, changing our usual working practices and making the best possible use of technology to make the process as easy as we can for you at what will already be a difficult time.

If you have any questions relating to a grant of probate or would like to discuss how to make progressing the probate process that little bit easier, please email [email protected] or call Deniece on 0208 866 1820.