COVID-19 impacts probate applications in the UK

COVID-19 impacts probate applications in the UK

In June, it was widely reported that HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) had been receiving a surge in probate applications. The Government tried to manage the surge in demand by hiring additional staff and upskilling existing staff to clear the backlog which resulted in average turnaround times of five to six weeks.
In a recent interview, Stephen Burgess from HMCTS provided reassurance that measures are in place to progress applications at an improved pace. “We have put significant extra resources into the probate service to prepare for any increases in levels of receipts,” Burgess said.
With the average probate application submitted 3 months after registration of a death, HMCTS is still anticipating a peak in applications from 5,000 per week to 9,000 due to the pandemic, but say they are prepared for the increased impending workload.
Probate registries have been under scrutiny for many months due to processing delays. The delays originally began after the rollout of a new IT case management system in spring 2019 which dramatically slowed down processing applications.
Despite HMCTS claims that applications are being processed promptly, some Executors, Administrators and estate administration providers are still reporting longer waits for Grants to be issued in some cases.

Related Articles

Heterosexual civil partnerships are now legal

Heterosexual civil partnerships are now legal

After a landmark Supreme Court ruling, the Civil Partnerships Act 2004 has been amended to allow heterosexual couples to formalise their relationship with a civil partnership as an alternative to marriage. This took effect on 31st December 2019.

With approximately 84,000 heterosexual couples expected to form civil partnerships in 2020, we took a closer look at the potential impact of this new status.

In brief, there is not much difference in the treatment of civil partners vs. married couples when it comes to the administration of an estate.

For example, when someone with an existing Will gets married or enters into civil partnership, the Will is automatically revoked, becomes void and must be updated as soon as possible to maintain its validity. Otherwise, that individual’s estate would be distributed according to the rules of intestacy upon their death.

Additionally, any Inheritance Tax exemptions made available to a surviving spouse who is a beneficiary of their spouse’s assets, are equally available to surviving civil partners. Civil partners are also able to transfer their unused nil rate band allowance to their partner in order to reduce the potential tax payable on the second death, akin to spouses.

A key benefit of this option is the stability and legal recognition available to the 3.3 million cohabiting couples in the UK who may desire this assurance, but do not wish to be married.

Please get in touch if you have questions about administering an estate or updating your Will after a significant life event.

St Albans | Birmingham | Bath | Blackburn | Bradford | Bournemouth | Bolton | Brighton | Bromley | Bristol | Carlisle | Cambridge | Cardiff | Chester | Chelmsford | Colchester | Croydon | Canterbury | Coventry | Crewe | Dartford | Derby | Darlington | Doncaster | Dorchester | Dudley | Enfield | Exeter| Fylde | Gloucester | Guildford | Harrow | Huddersfield | Harrogate | Hemel Hemstead | Hereford | Hull | Halifax | Ilford | Ipswich |London | Liverpool | Lancaster | Llandrinod | Leicester | Llandudno | Lincoln | Leeds | Luton | Manchester | Medway | Milton Keynes |Newcastle | Nottingham | Northampton | Newport | Norwich | Oldham | Oxford | Paisley | Peterborough | Perth | Plymouth | Portsmouth | Preston | Reading | Redhill | Romford | Rotherham | Sheffield | Swansea | Stevenage | Stockport | Slough | Sutton | Swindon | Southampton | Salisbury | Sunderland | Southend | Stoke on Trent | Shrewsbury | Taunton | Telford | Tonbridge | Torquay | Truro | Teeside | Twickenham | Uxbridge | Warrington | Watford | Wakefield | Wigan | Worcester | Walsall | Wolverhampton | York |

Power of attorney refund scheme launched

A refund scheme for those who have been overcharged for their power of attorney fees was launched on the 1st February 2018.

In an announcement made by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), the refunds are being offered to those who may have been charged more than was necessary when they applied to register for powers of attorney between 1 April 2013 and 31 March 2017.

According to the MoJ, the process to register for enduring powers of attorney became more efficient during this period and as a result, operating costs for the Office of the Public Guardian came down. However, the fee charged for the application did not reduce in line with this. The fee was subsequently lowered by the MoJ, a change which came into effect 1 April 2017.

In an announcement made by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), the refunds are being offered to those who may have been charged more than was necessary when they applied to register for powers of attorney between 1 April 2013 and 31 March 2017.

Plans to repay those who were overcharged were originally announced in July last year. At the time, the expected total was around the £89 million mark.

According to the MoJ, the process to register for enduring powers of attorney became more efficient during this period and as a result, operating costs for the Office of the Public Guardian came down. However, the fee charged for the application did not reduce in line with this. The fee was subsequently lowered by the MoJ, a change which came into effect 1 April 2017.

Now, they have launched a refund scheme for those who paid the higher fee during the qualifying period.

Claims for full and partial refunds can be made by the donor via an online service, with only one form needing to be completed for each.

The Ministry of Justice has confirmed that the number of applications eligible for the refund is around 1.7 million.

A number of regulatory organisations and professionals from within the sector have shared their thoughts on the launch of the refund scheme.

“We are delighted that the Ministry of Justice has launched a refund scheme to reimburse customers for the overcharging of registration fees of Powers of Attorney, which extends back to 1st April 2013.  This will affect customers who registered documents between 1st April 2013 to 31st March 2017, who will now have to seek a partial refund of the fees that they paid.

 We encourage anyone who has been overcharged in the last four years to apply for their partial refund, by online application or a telephone call, to the OPG.”

For those who believe they are eligible, claims can be made here: www.claim-power-of-attorney-refund.service.gov.uk

Govt sets out new rules on Funeral Expenses Payments

The Government sets out new rules on Funeral Expenses Payments

The government has announced several changes to the eligibility conditions relating to the Social Fund Funeral Expenses Payments scheme that will take effect from 2 April.

The scheme allows people on a low income and in need of help to pay for a funeral to claim a Funeral Expenses Payment, which must be paid back to the government if the claimant receives money from the deceased’s estate.

Under the changes, claimants will be able to receive contributions from charities, relatives or friends without them being deducted from the overall sum payable towards funeral costs.

Additionally, from April, claimants can make an application within six months of the funeral date for help with funeral costs instead of the current three months. They will also have the option of submitting any evidence needed in support of their claim electronically.

Royal London funeral cost expert Louise Eaton-Terry said the changes were welcome, but missed the mark on the “biggest issue” facing bereaved families.

“It’s good to see small changes being made to the Funeral Payment process but the government has ignored the biggest issue,” she said. “Funeral costs continue to increase above inflation year on year, with our research showing that bereaved families who qualify for the fund face a shortfall of more than £2,000 to cover the cost of a funeral.

“While these reforms are a step in the right direction, they fail to address the value of the award, and we want the government to go further and commit to increasing the social fund funeral expenses payment.”

According to Royal London, the average cost of a funeral in the UK is £3,784 – an increase of 3% from 2016, and those who struggle to pay funeral costs take on an average debt of £1,680.

Grant of Probate Delays Continue

Increased Grant applications cause delays

Delays to Grant of Probate applications in England and Wales continue. A recent STEP article reports that 23,572 applications were received by HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) in January 2022. This is an increase of 5,297 (29%) on the 18,275 applications received in December 2021 for probate. The article also states that 2021 was the second-highest year in the past ten years for Grants issued.

The Law Society recently summarised an update from HMCTS. The summary reports that in January 2022:

Digital applications took 15.8 weeks from submission to Grant of Probate being issued when a stop occurred, compared to 4.2 weeks without stopsPaper applications took 21.5 weeks from submission to Grant of Probate being issued when a stop occurred, compared to 9.8 weeks without stops

HMCTS has stated that they’re continuously recruiting new members of staff to help with the backlog. They also claim that this backlog is not increasing and that receipts are being managed efficiently. However, Personal Representatives, beneficiaries, and legal professionals should anticipate delays in the meantime.

To avoid delaying the process further, action can be taken to reduce the risk of a stopped Grant application, such as checking the following:

The Inheritance Tax forms have been submitted to HMRC 20 working days before applying for probate (HMCTS need this to process applications)All details have been proofread and the names match those on the WillAny Executors who are not signing the application are cleared offThe statement of truth and forms have been signed where requiredThe correct fee has been paid

Contact us for more information about applying for probate and delays.

Managing property upon death

Who deals with property when someone dies?

The responsibility of dealing with the deceased’s property falls to the Executor (when there’s a Will) or the Administrator (when there’s no Will). This means that if anything happens to the property after the owner dies, they are responsible for resolving the issue.

Before dealing with the property, it’s important to ascertain how the property was owned. It could be that the property was owned solely by the deceased or they co-owned it with someone else, so the deceased only had a share in the property. If the property is owned as joint tenants, it will automatically pass to the co-owner. If the property is owned as tenants in common, the deceased’s share will form part of their estate and needs to be dealt with in line with the Will/rules of intestacy.

When dealing with the property, the following could be involved:

Organising specialist building insurance – when a property is left unoccupied, restrictions apply to standard insurance. A policy that covers the deceased’s property will need to be sourced
Notifying utility companies – utility companies should be notified as soon as possible so that delays to payment requests can be put in place and accounts can be frozen. Outstanding bills are usually paid from the estate
Redirection of mail – a special circumstances form can be taken to your local Post Office or sent off by post so that mail is redirected
Property clearance – if sold, the property will need to be cleared of all furniture and personal items. Professional companies can be instructed to clear the deceased’s possessions if necessary

If you have questions about dealing with property, please contact us.

Related Articles

What happens to property when someone dies?

Understanding the probate process and why auction works

Managing property upon death

Who deals with property when someone dies?

The responsibility of dealing with the deceased’s property falls to the Executor (when there’s a Will) or the Administrator (when there’s no Will). This means that if anything happens to the property after the owner dies, they are responsible for resolving the issue.

Before dealing with the property, it’s important to ascertain how the property was owned. It could be that the property was owned solely by the deceased or they co-owned it with someone else, so the deceased only had a share in the property. If the property is owned as joint tenants, it will automatically pass to the co-owner. If the property is owned as tenants in common, the deceased’s share will form part of their estate and needs to be dealt with in line with the Will/rules of intestacy.

When dealing with the property, the following could be involved:

Organising specialist building insurance – when a property is left unoccupied, restrictions apply to standard insurance. A policy that covers the deceased’s property will need to be sourced
Notifying utility companies – utility companies should be notified as soon as possible so that delays to payment requests can be put in place and accounts can be frozen. Outstanding bills are usually paid from the estate
Redirection of mail – a special circumstances form can be taken to your local Post Office or sent off by post so that mail is redirected
Property clearance – if sold, the property will need to be cleared of all furniture and personal items. Professional companies can be instructed to clear the deceased’s possessions if necessary

If you have questions about dealing with property, please contact us.

Missing Beneficiaries UK

What happens when an heir can’t be found?

During estate administration, having to locate missing beneficiaries can cause additional stress. A beneficiary may be missing for several reasons, including:

• Family estrangement – the family may have lost contact with an heir
• An invalid Will – issues with the Will can lead to doubts about whether all beneficiaries are correctly identified; further research may be required
• Intestacy – when someone dies without a Will, the estate must be distributed according to the rules of intestacy. The heirs may not be easy to locate

The best way to avoid missing beneficiaries is to ensure that your Will is written, up-to-date, and clear. Your Will should name and provide details for all those who you wish to benefit from your estate.

If a beneficiary is missing, there are several ways through which they can be located: asking friends and family; electoral roll data; consumer and credit databases; birth, marriage, death, and adoption records. A professional can reconstruct/verify the family tree or conduct a thorough Will search.

If all efforts to locate a beneficiary have been unsuccessful, there are several ways that distribution can proceed, such as:

Inheritance held – their share held in case they appear later
Inheritance distributed – their share distributed and then returned if the individual is later found
Missing Beneficiary Indemnity Insurance – a policy to mitigate the risk of a claim against the estate post-distribution

Get in touch for advice on locating missing beneficiaries.

Missing Beneficiaries UK

What happens when an heir can’t be found?

During estate administration, having to locate missing beneficiaries can cause additional stress. A beneficiary may be missing for several reasons, including:

• Family estrangement – the family may have lost contact with an heir
• An invalid Will – issues with the Will can lead to doubts about whether all beneficiaries are correctly identified; further research may be required
• Intestacy – when someone dies without a Will, the estate must be distributed according to the rules of intestacy. The heirs may not be easy to locate

The best way to avoid missing beneficiaries is to ensure that your Will is written, up-to-date, and clear. Your Will should name and provide details for all those who you wish to benefit from your estate.

If a beneficiary is missing, there are several ways through which they can be located: asking friends and family; electoral roll data; consumer and credit databases; birth, marriage, death, and adoption records. A professional can reconstruct/verify the family tree or conduct a thorough Will search.

If all efforts to locate a beneficiary have been unsuccessful, there are several ways that distribution can proceed, such as:

Inheritance held – their share held in case they appear later
Inheritance distributed – their share distributed and then returned if the individual is later found
Missing Beneficiary Indemnity Insurance – a policy to mitigate the risk of a claim against the estate post-distribution

Get in touch for advice on locating missing beneficiaries.