A further three weeks of lockdown has just been announced by the Government. However, we are now growing accustomed to this new (hopefully temporary) world order but some significant adaptations have had to be made, not least so in the legal world.
The good news is that, as a result of pragmatic responses by the Law Society and HMRC, we can continue to assist new and existing clients alike as normal.
For existing clients, we are able to act upon your instructions in a number of ways albeit these will need to be confirmed by a phone or video call. New clients are able to instruct us to prepare a new Will or update an existing Will too, although we will need to “meet” via video-conferencing. Once we have taken your instructions, we can send you a draft Will together with a letter containing a summary of its provisions and any other associated advice. We can do so by email or in the post.
It is also possible to have your Will signed and witnessed during lockdown. If it is possible to find an independent person then they can act as your witness. If not, one of our solicitors can do so via a video call or, if this is not possible, by visiting you in person with the appropriate barriers in place.
It is tempting to try to make a Will yourself during this difficult time. However, there are significant risks in doing so and this can result in unintended consequences or unexpected tax bills. It is important to put an appropriate Will in place especially if you want to benefit young or vulnerable beneficiaries. Putting a Will in place through a solicitor is the safest way to ensure that your wishes are given effect to and that those left behind are suitably protected.
Powers of Attorney
We are able to assist new and existing clients with putting Powers of Attorney in place in a similar way. The requirements for signing a Power of Attorney is slightly more challenging than with a Will because the signing needs to be witnessed by a solicitor or doctor. However, again there is a Law Society endorsed procedure in place that allows our solicitors to witness and certify the signing of a Power of Attorney by video call.
Should one of your loved ones pass away during this difficult period, it is still possible for you to start the process of dealing with the administration of their estate. For many, this is part of the grieving process and our compassionate and empathetic solicitors can guide you through this.
The first step is often to arrange a phone or video call with us to discuss the estate and the assets held within it. Once we have been provided with the information we need, we can issue letters to the relevant institutions to obtain the information required to complete the application for Confirmation and, if necessary, the Inheritance Tax (IHT) return to HMRC. Most financial institutions are operating as normal so there is no reason to delay dealing with this part of the process.
It is important to remember that, if IHT is due on an estate, the first payment is due by the end of the month six months after the death occurs. HMRC have not indicated a relaxation of this deadline as a result of the current situation so it is important to adhere to it. However, HMRC has confirmed that, for the moment, printed (as opposed to wet) signatures on the IHT return are sufficient so this should make dealing with this aspect a little easier.
Unfortunately, the Court is not currently processing applications for Confirmation (the Scottish equivalent of probate) so we can only take matters so far. However, there is no reason to delay taking the initial steps to deal with the estate administration now and it is worth remembering that some assets (such as bank accounts) can be closed down to release money at an early stage.
We understand that thinking about death and mortality isn’t pleasant, but it is important to have these difficult conversations especially at this uncertain time. However, we are here to offer peace of mind to existing and new clients alike so please do not hesitate to get in touch.
We also understand that dealing with bereavement is difficult at the best of times and now, more than ever, it is important to have the reassurance of expert assistance to help guide you through the legal process. We are able to help with all matters arising following the death of a loved one in an understanding and compassionate way so please do not hesitate to get in touch.