The grief of losing a friend or relative is difficult enough, but when you are also responsible for sorting out their final affairs, the process can seem overwhelming, even if their estate is ‘straightforward’.
For the vast majority of people, the Coronavirus/Covid-19 pandemic has had some sort of impact on daily life, ranging from the relatively minor inconvenience of having to adapt to home working to the major impact of losing a loved one to the disease.
Those who have recently lost a loved one will find that the probate industry has also been affected. Lockdown restrictions, procedural issues, and death rate increases have pushed Probate Registries to their limits over the past few months.
Grieving families now face a long wait for probate to be issued before they can start sorting out the deceased person’ estate.
How long will you have to wait for probate?
The turnaround for a probate application where there is a Will used to be around two to four weeks. However, since 2019, this timescale has reportedly increased to around three to four months. The Probate Registry now states that probate should be issued within four weeks, however, it remains to be seen whether probate applications are consistently being processed within this timeframe.
Reasons for probate delays
Probate Registries have been dealing with delays since 2019 when plans to increase probate fees led to a surge of applications. Combined with other issues such as glitches in Probate Registries’ software and the closure of some Registries, the time it took to get a Grant of Representation increased to around three to four months.
By early 2020, Probate Registries had just begun to get on top of the delays when the Covid-19 pandemic struck. Now, there is a whole set of new issues for Registries to conquer if they are to get back on track.
With the sudden implementation of a nationwide lockdown in March 2020, probate Registries, like so many other workplaces, closed their offices and asked their staff to work remotely. Since probate is still significantly paper-based, this has inevitably caused delays.
As well as difficulties on the side of the Probate Registries, personal representatives and their legal advisors have also faced procedural issues. When lockdown began, there was actually a 50% fall in probate applications due to people having issuing obtaining the information they needed to apply; for example, offices where Wills are stored being closed down. Delays have therefore been caused by:
- Applications not being submitted as quickly as they would under normal circumstances
- Applications being submitted with inaccurate or incomplete information
Delayed surge in applications
When lockdown began to lift in May 2020, probate applications began to surge again, increasing the workload of Probate Registries who are still struggling to cope. As well as dealing with the applications delayed since the start of lockdown, mortality rates in the UK have dramatically increased since the arrival of the pandemic; to date, over 41,000 people have died of Covid-19 in the UK and the vast majority of their estates will need to go through probate.
Tips for handling estate administration during Covid-19
There is little you can do to circumvent Probate Registry delays (other than ensuring the application is submitted promptly and accurately), but here are our top tips for handling the administration of someone’s estate:
Find the Will ASAP
The Will is key to getting the estate administration underway. You will need it to apply for probate and to ensure that you comply with the deceased’s final wishes. If the deceased person did not tell you where it is, you should:
- Contact their solicitor, they may have a copy on file
- Search their home
- Contact their accountant or other financial professional
- Check whether it is stored with the Principal Registry of the Family Division – you can ask to search the ‘safe custody Wills register’
Use the Tell Us Once service
As well as registering the death, you must also notify any organisation that has an interest. You can notify Government organisations such as the DVLA, the Passport Office and HMRC in one go by using their Tell Us Once online service.
Notify banks, mortgage lenders and other financial providers
You will need to contact any organisation with whom the deceased had an account to start compiling financial information ready for probate. This should include:
- Building societies
- Insurance companies
- Mortgage lenders
Start collecting financial information
You will need to assess the value of the deceased person’s estate, for example:
- The value of their property
- The value of their savings
- Their income
- Their pension entitlements
- Any pay outs from life insurance policies
You also need to work out the deceased person’s debts and liabilities such as mortgage payments.
Once you have assessed the value of the estate, you can calculate whether any Inheritance Tax is due and file the tax return with HMRC.
Consult a probate solicitor
A specialist probate solicitor can tell you exactly what needs to be done and take on a lot of the work on your behalf. They will ensure that the probate process is completed accurately which will help prevent any unnecessary delays.
Contact us for expert probate advice
If you need advice about applying for probate, get in touch with our probate solicitors in Bristol. We can provide the support and guidance you need to get through the process as simply and straightforwardly as possible.