If you have lost someone close to you during this pandemic then, like me, you may find it particularly difficult hearing the statistics on the news about the number of deaths from COVID-19 and the number of new cases. To us, it has nothing to do with numbers, and everything to do with losing that particular friend, family member or loved one.
Whether you have lost someone recently because of COVID-19, or through a different cause, we can help you with the important things you need to know about what to do when someone dies.
The first thing you need to know is that there are a few practical steps that you have to take in the first few days after someone has died.
You will have to register the death formally with your local Registry Office. You can do this by telephoning the Registry Office and making an appointment. Normally, you would make an appointment for a face-to-face meeting with one of the Registrars. During the coronavirus crisis, however, that is not possible. You can still register the death, and you should go ahead and make an appointment with the Registry Office, but you can provide all of the details over the telephone instead of attending the Registry Office in person.
If you want to have a funeral, then you will need to contact a local firm of funeral directors, and they can go through with you the arrangements that you will need to make. Funerals are still going ahead during the coronavirus crisis, but there are restrictions on the number of people who can attend in person.
The second thing you need to know concerns “probate”. Probate is a word that we tend use in two slightly different ways. The first way describes a document, known as a “Grant of Probate”, which is a legal document provided by the Probate Registry which names the people who are authorised to deal with the estate of someone who has died. The second way describes the process we follow when administering someone’s estate. The probate process includes gathering information about the assets and liabilities in the estate at the date of death, reporting the values to the Probate Registry and HMRC, and then collecting in the estate to distribute to the beneficiaries.
Applying for probate can prove to be somewhat of a minefield, and that is where we can really help you. Barrett & Co has established a business account directly with the Probate Registry, which enables us to apply for probate online.
Normally, a number of legal documents would need to be completed with wet signatures, and those documents would then need to be sent in paper format to the Probate Registry. The government has relaxed those rules temporarily, and this means that we can apply for probate online on your behalf, using our business account with the Probate Registry, and uploading the documents to them electronically.
At the moment, we are also able to deal with Inheritance Tax forms online. The relaxing of the rules about wet signatures enables us to submit forms directly to HMRC on your behalf, and make arrangements to pay to HMRC any tax that is due as a result of the person’s death.
Being able to deal directly both with the Probate Registry and HMRC means that we can take away from you the worry and stress that the probate process may cause, at a time when you are trying to cope with a new bereavement and grieving the loss of your loved one.
The third thing that you need to know is the importance of taking legal advice at the beginning of this process. If you seek no legal advice about anything else, please come and talk to us about what to do when someone has died.
There is so much that can go wrong during the probate process, and sadly we are dealing with many situations where whole family relationships have broken down because legal advice was not sought early enough. It may be that the person’s Will has been misinterpreted, or the Will is being challenged in some way. Or it may be that there is a misunderstanding over the assets in the estate, or the way in which the estate is being distributed.
Seeking legal advice early on – even if it is only to take us up on our offer of a one-hour fixed fee meeting for £95 (incl VAT) – will give us the opportunity to ensure that you are on the right tracks, and that can avoid so many problems further down the line.
We can help you with the probate process as much or as little as you wish. As well as the fixed fee meeting scheme, we can also help you with the application for probate, using our online business account with the Probate Registry. You may feel that you cannot cope with anything to do with administering the estate, and would prefer us to undertake all of that work for you, from the gathering information stage to applying for probate, right through to distributing the estate to the beneficiaries. If that is the case, then please come and talk to us so that we can help you take things forward, and take away the heartache and worry you may be feeling at this time.
You can watch our Probate Solicitor Jane Whitfield explain this article in a short video.
Get in Touch
Jane Whitfield can meet with you to discuss your personal circumstances, your options and your next steps. This would normally take place in our office in Reading, Berkshire. During the coronavirus situation, however, all of our meetings are currently being carried out either by telephone or by video link.
If you would like to meet with Jane, please telephone the office so that an appointment can be made for you. If you would like to take up our offer of a one-hour £95 fixed fee meeting, please click for more details.
Jane is a Solicitor specialising in Private Client matters. Jane is a qualified Trusts & Estate Practitioner with STEP (Society of Trusts & Estates Practitioners) and a fully accredited member of Solicitors for the Elderly, as well as being a Dementia Friends Champion. Jane is also President of the Berks, Bucks & Oxfordshire Law Society.