There are many legal formalities that must take place following a death, and some of the requirements have changed during the current Coronavirus lockdown. Often the two most important formalities are arranging the funeral and registering the death. Deaths are normally registered in person by visiting the local registrar of births, marriages and deaths but appointments can now be made over the telephone to give this information desk and death certificates sent out by post. It is important to speak to the hospital, care home or local GP (if the person died at home) to ensure that they have sent the required paperwork to the registrar too.
Funeral services can still take place, but there are restrictions on the number of attendees. Sadly many people that would normally wish to attend a funeral to pay their respects may be self-isolating or vulnerable themselves and are unable to attend the funeral themselves. Many families are now planning a small gathering for the funeral, followed by a memorial service in the coming months when the current pandemic and associated restrictions are over.
Administering an estate can cause legal and practical difficulties at the best of times. It can be overwhelming trying to understand what the financial and legal matters that need to be dealt with are; whether probate is required, what happens with paying bills, and what taxes (estates can often be subject to inheritance tax, capital gains tax and income tax) are payable. There may be other practical difficulties bought about with the current restrictions including dealing with a property in an estate, sending original documents and satisfying identification checks when in isolation. With very unfortunate timing the probate registry is also soon to introduce a new probate application system which is likely to complicate existing procedures and cause delays.
The answer is to seek specialist legal advice at early stage following agreement. At Barwells we offer free appointment (by telephone) for Executors appointed under a will (or family members where there is no Will and the intestacy rules apply). Our experienced and friendly team can guide you through the next steps following a bereavement; including advising on whether “probate“ is required (and how to get it) what taxes might be payable, and how and when to contact financial institutions and other companies to inform them of the death. Our specialist lawyers can also advise you on your duties and responsibilities as an Executor; for example making sure property which now may be unoccupied has the appropriate specialist insurance cover.
Being an Executor is a great honour, but the role also carries hefty responsibilities and legal liability if things are not dealt with properly. It is important that Executors take early legal advice to fully understand their role.