Posted by Mandy Casavant, Partner
Can anything be done to bypass the current delays to grants of probate?
Our Private Client Partner Mandy Casavant has contributed to the Financial Times regarding a significant slowdown in the probate process due to coronavirus.
Here, she answers a reader’s question involving their late great-aunt and the execution of her will.
My great-aunt died at the end of last year and my family and I are still desperately trying to execute her will. However, grants of probate approvals are currently being delayed by up to three months due to coronavirus.
I am relying on the inheritance money to pay for my eldest daughter’s university fees. As a family, are we liable and expected to pay for any of my great aunt’s outstanding bills? What other problems should we be aware of? Is anything being done to bypass the current delays to grants of probate?
The COVID pandemic has seen a significant slowdown in the probate process, both in the interplay between the two bodies who manage probate applications, HMRC and District Probate Registries, and in the various banks and financial institutions that hold assets of the deceased.
The process for applying for a Grant of Probate is reliant on you identifying what is in your great aunt’s estate and declaring this to HMRC in form IHT400, and arranging for the estate to settle any inheritance tax due. Tax will be due six months after the end of the month in which death occurred and has to be paid before control of the estate’s assets can be obtained.
Delays are compounded as probate follows a rigid process.
Firstly, banks, building societies, estate agents, accountants and other asset holders may themselves be facing delays in obtaining the information you need to present to HMRC.
HMRC is working hard to process probate applications, but many of its agents are now working remotely, adding further delay. Getting the tax released from asset holders, or loaned by beneficiaries/executors, is also taking time with remote ID verification a particular problem.
District Probate Registries have to wait for notification from HMRC that enough money has been paid. It is dealing with high volumes of applications, adding yet more delays. The Courts are then taking up to nine weeks to review and confirm the Grant of Probate, and only when you have that are you able to go back to asset holders and seek release of the fund.
This process can, from the date of death, take upwards of seven months when running smoothly, and longer if there are problems encountered at any one stage.
There are a few things you can do to speed the process up.
Arrange formal valuations of assets as early on as possible, and have all the documentation you need to hand, including the Will, information on the pre-deceased spouse’s estate, marriage date, death certificates, National Insurance number, and any information on lifetime gifting.
We would also recommend using the online application process whenever possible as this does speed the process up, and finally keep a diary of the dates actions were taken so as to keep a broad eye on progress to update interested parties.
Finally, the estate itself is (usually) liable for the inheritance tax, liabilities and administration expenses. However, without access to funds people are left waiting for their money for a long period of time which most commercial institutions are now accustomed to. Keeping everyone informed is key.
If you have any enquiries, please contact Mandy Casavant on:
01793 847 754 Email us