The importance of seeking early family law legal advice and, where possible, settling non-contentiously – for example, via alternative dispute resolution such as mediation – has been brought to the fore by the latest estimates from HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) which show that it is likely to take around three years for courts to return to pre-Covid caseload levels.
Inevitably, this means that there is a significant backlog, and The Family Justice Board acknowledged as much when it indicated that it both needs to tackle “immediate pressures” and to initiate the process of implementing longer-term reform.
The first working Monday of the New Year has, through the experience of divorce lawyers, come to be known as “divorce day”. This is because, typically, Christmas and New Year tends to bring struggling relationships to an inevitable and irreversible breaking point.
However, divorce day 2021 was always likely to be different to recent years because the lockdowns and associated pressures of 2020 had already resulted in many failing marriages to have ended.
There are concerns that the new statutory instrument enabling Wills to be witnessed virtually during the Covid-19 health pandemic could result in a surge of problems, including the possibility of probate dispute claims.
Perhaps the first challenge presented by virtually-witnessed Wills, which came into effect on 28 September 2020, is the fact that they need the physical signatures of three individuals (the Will writer (testator) and two witnesses).
Cross-border probate can seem like a very complicated area of law, particularly for families in the midst of grief and all the accompanying uncertainties that are an inherent part of the administration of a deceased person’s estate.
However, to avoid the possibility of such uncertainty and, potentially, probate disputes, those with cross-border estates should make a comprehensive Will or Wills covering what should to all of their assets across all jurisdictions.
Covid-related probate service delays are unfortunately very common at the moment, with many bereaved families and executors facing delays of 12 weeks or more as a result of the global health pandemic.
This is likely to be a stressful experience for all families, but some relatives may be able to weather the experience of delays more securely than others. In fact, for some families delays to the grant of probate can be catastrophic, particularly if the estate is also accruing interest on outstanding debts and those affected find themselves grappling with questions of liability for this interest.