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Ongoing delays within the probate system, worsened by the pandemic, are causing considerable hardship to heirs, recent reports suggest.
A proposed rise in probate fees last year, coupled with a programme of probate registry closures, had contributed to a backlog in cases even before Covid-19 arrived in the UK to lengthen delays as staff had to adapt to remote working or take time off sick.
“Probate delays put a lot of heirs in a really tough spot financially,” Lynne Rowland, partner at accountancy firm Moore Kingston Smith, told the Independent. “Dependants are having to choose between funding the costs of another home now or delay any payments and pick up a bigger bill further down the line due to any interest.”
Executors can be held personally liable for any payments made from an estate before the grant of probate is obtained, so they may be reluctant to transfer funds to a beneficiary without the grant being in place.
In some cases banks are allowing executors to access money from the deceased’s bank account to pay bills prior to the issue of a grant of probate.
Rowland added: “While this shows flexibility on behalf of the banks, the executors are personally liable to the estate for these funds and in accepting the money they could expose themselves to significant personal financial liabilities.”
Meanwhile, a survey released by Co-Op Legal Services last month found many of those who made wills earlier in the pandemic failed to tell the people they named as executors.
Its survey of 2,000 adults, carried out in July, found that 74 per cent had not discussed their wishes with their loved ones, while 29 per cent did not know what executors were supposed to do.
James Antoniou, head of wills at Co-op Legal Services, said: “While it’s encouraging that so many people have used the lockdown period to put wills in place, it’s important to ensure the right conversations have taken place with their chosen executors to check they’re happy to take on the role and that they understand the responsibility and what’s expected of them.
“Most UK adults want to depend on friends and family to take up the role of executor, so it’s vital that people understand their options and that the role is properly explained.”