The Probate Service – our lockdown experience
Like many areas of everyday life, we have been experiencing a number of changes in the Wealth Preservation team due to the Covid-19 situation, including a number of practical difficulties when dealing with probate.
Registering deaths and arranging funerals
It is still possible to register deaths with local registry offices and to arrange funerals but expect some delays. Telephone appointments will be used in place of face to face contact, and social distancing restrictions will apply at funerals. The Government has issued guidance around managing a funeral during the coronavirus pandemic.
Signing documents to apply for probate
The probate registry has agreed to accept electronic signatures in place of “wet” ink signatures. They will also now accept statements of truth (which require a signature only) in place of affidavits (which must be sworn in front of a solicitor) where previously affidavits were required; such as if a Will has been lost.
A new application process for professional applicants was launched on 18 May 2020. Rather than applying with a statement of truth, applicants are now required to apply using an application form.
The completion and signing of inheritance tax (IHT) forms for HMRC
HMRC have confirmed they will accept electronic signatures on IHT forms where previously wet signatures were required. This, in theory, will ease the process for professional applicants or those acting on behalf of lay applicants.
It may be difficult to comply with all the usual requirements for valuing estate assets (such as properties) for IHT purposes. In some cases, estimated values may need to be used. It should be clearly stated where values are estimated and corrected values should be agreed with HMRC at a later date, once it is possible to arrange formal valuations. It is important to remember that if IHT is payable, it must be paid by the end of the 6th month after the person died so using estimated valuations may be necessary to meet this deadline and avoid penalties.
Delays with HMRC and the probate registry
Many of the court and HMRC staff are working from home which will cause inevitable delays. Expect applications for probate to take 2 – 3 months – possibly longer.
What we’re doing
We are very fortunate to have a dedicated Professional Support Lawyer as part of the Wealth Preservation team who keeps us updated on all developments. Our systems and working practices have been adapted and we are submitting probate applications in accordance with the new procedures.