Dealing with the death of a loved one is always an extremely emotional and stressful time, but this is particularly so during the current COVID-19 crisis. It is important that family members contact their solicitor as soon as possible after a death. Processes have adapted very quickly in line with the current restrictions and our team are on hand able to assist families during this difficult time.
Registration of death – what has changed?
Normally carried out via a face to face meeting with the local council registry office registrars are now carrying out death registrations remotely.
It is the responsibility of GP or hospital doctor (if the death occurred in hospital) to email the Form 11 medical certificate of cause of death to the registrar in the local area. The original certificate is then posted to the local registry office and the process of registration then begins. This now involves a telephone call with the family rather than a face to face meeting.
The death certificate can be posted to the family (or indeed to the solicitor direct).
Deaths no longer require to be registered within an 8-day period.
Initial meeting with family/executors – how are we doing this?
Our team are able to conduct the initial meeting by a video call.
Obtaining relevant information – any changes?
We have the facilities to send out initial investigation letters to obtain the relevant information, such as date of death balances from banks required for confirmation purposes. Some companies will reply by email instead of by post. If required, we can also arrange to certify documents and arrange electronic signatures.
Professional valuations – what has changed?
As always, with an estate where inheritance tax (IHT) is payable it is essential to obtain professional valuations of the deceased's property both heritable and moveable.
Most surveyors are not currently carrying out physical valuations due to social distancing and travel restrictions. They are however able to provide a desktop valuation and HMRC have confirmed that at present they will accept this (although this may be subject to change over the coming weeks and months).
Some surveyors are tentatively recommencing with physical inspections if the property is vacant - this is decided on a case by case basis. We understand that some valuers are also still undertaking valuations of personal items and household contents whilst adhering to social distancing rules.
Confirmation process – what you need to know
The grant of confirmation is the legal authority for executors to act in an estate and enables them to deal with the deceased's assets in terms of the will (or the rules of intestacy if there is no will). The executors must submit the application for the grant to the local commissary court in the area where the deceased died. As of 1 May commissary courts are operational again. Under normal circumstances we would expect confirmation to be granted within 3 to 6 weeks of submission to the court. However, due to the huge backlog that the courts are dealing with, it is likely now to be significantly longer. Given many beneficiaries may be in more challenging financial circumstances than usual there may be additional pressure to get applications in as quick as possible.
HMRC – what has changed?
Where a form IHT400 is required to be submitted HMRC will currently accept these forms a statement by a professional agent confirming all the executors have seen the forms rather than require signatures by all executors. Where inheritance tax is payable, if this is paid after the relevant deadline, then HMRC will assess on a case by case basis as to whether usual interest will apply Further guidance may be issued on this.
Our team continue to advise and support families dealing with the estates of deceased relatives and understand the added pressure placed upon individuals in these challenging times. Family members/executors should get in touch with their personal team contact as soon as possible to discuss the necessary arrangements. Given the potential delays in obtaining Confirmation it is even more important than usual to ensure applications are made as soon as possible.