Probate registries and HMRC Covid-19 update


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The last 18 months have been a tumultuous period for the probate registries which are the arm of the Court System that issue grants of probate.

Firstly the Government announced an intention to increase the cost of issuing a grant from the existing figure of £155 to up to a maximum of £6,000 as reported in one of our previous articles. This caused a flood of applications to avoid the increased fee which in the event was withdrawn following uproar from MPs and the charity sector.

Secondly the Government chose to update the IT systems which caused additional delays. The Courts have sought to introduce online applications in an effort to expedite the issuing of grants though this change has not been without teething problems.

Finally, the Courts and Tribunals service sought to rationalise the probate service to a few "hubs" which meant that many regional probate registries are in the process of closing with some having already closed.

Towards the beginning of 2020 timescales for applications were beginning to come down from 12 weeks to around 3 weeks.

The new procedures prior to Covid-19

Even before the spread of the pandemic the Courts were working towards trying to digitise the process of applying for a grant of probate.

Oaths for Executors were phased out in April 2019 to be replaced with Statement of Truth. From 18th May 2020 Statements of Truth themselves were phased out in favour of a more standardised application form.

In addition, the Courts have rolled out an online system to allow professionals to apply for grants electronically and Trowers were among the first firms to sign up to this scheme.

The software still has its limitations but we are hopeful this will be refined over the next few months. In the meantime we can still take advantage of a parallel paper based scheme.

Current Covid-19 procedures

For estates where there are professional executors some of the rules on signing both Inheritance Tax forms for HMRC and applications for grants to the Courts have been relaxed and in the majority of cases we can sign on behalf of executors as agents.

This has meant that we have continued to be able to progress matters throughout this difficult period and put our clients in strong positions not only in respect of taking opportunities in the financial markets but the property market too.
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