The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), has released details of its recent survey of 1,700 probate lawyers and related practitioners situated across the globe. The survey sought to find out how advisers who specialise in inheritance, probate and succession planning have been affected by the COVID-19 health pandemic.
Unsurprisingly, the recent coronavirus lockdowns and restrictions have not resulted in any lessening of the workload for these professionals, with some practitioners reporting a 21% increase in work, with Wills and probate related work increasing by 24% in some areas.
From 2 November, probate solicitors in England and Wales will be made to submit the majority of probate applications online as part of legislative changes that are designed to provide a more efficient and reliable probate service, while also leading to estimated costs savings of £20 million over the next ten years.
The Law Gazette reports that applications for grants of probate fell by around 50% during coronavirus lockdown. With probate solicitors unable to get into offices to access physical Wills and relatives unable to retrieve required documents from relatives' homes, the number of applications typically seen at this time of year dropped sharply. However, Her Majesty's Court and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) has said it anticipates a surge in applications once lockdown measures are fully eased.
Anecdotal evidence from probate solicitors suggests there are still considerable delays at hand in acquiring probate: the average time frame for grant of probate appears to be around three months, with some solicitors still waiting for grants on applications sent five months ago.
Here we take a look at several probate application issues which are currently significant.
The current worldwide issue relating to coronavirus has led to a surge in people wishing to create or amend their Will. While a sharp spike in mortality rates and lockdown measures mean that the usual structure of services following a death are not necessarily all in place.
Fortunately, for clients of those law firms already embracing digital technologies and remote working systems, there should be only minimal disruption. As long as homes continue to be served with power, broadband and telephone lines, solicitors should be able to carry on largely as normal and clients should be able to receive most aspects of the usual Wills and probate legal service. Many Wills and probate solicitors are able to take instruction over the phone and via video conferencing facilities, and there are many methods available for safe handling of sensitive documents.
It was as odd as it was anomalous that for some time heterosexual couples did not have the same legal right to civil partnerships as their same-sex counterparts did under the Civil Partnerships Act 2004. In fact, alongside numerous campaigners, the oddity was recognised by leading gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, who went so far as to call it discriminatory.
However, the law has now changed, meaning that heterosexual couples who do not wish to enter into a marriage are now able to undertake a civil partnership which affords them near legal equality with married couples without any of the religious or patriarchal connotations.