Looking back to our first blog of 2020 where we predicted what could make headlines throughout the year, there was definitely a prediction that did not make the list – a global pandemic that would affect our personal and professional lives in unprecedented ways. Aside from the pandemic, we saw some other news that impacted the estate administration industry, as well as accomplishments from Kings Court Trust that have affected how we work with each of you.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the highlights.
What’s been on our radar in the industry?
The COVID-19 pandemic
Kicking off the year in January 2020, the world started to hear about a virus that was sweeping across the planet, quickly known as the COVID-19 virus. As we all likely remember, the national lockdown threw our lives into a frenzy with restrictions that allowed very few things to operate as 'normal'. This could be a long list to disucss, but let’s look at the most noteworthy in our industry:
Working from home:
Understandably, with lockdowns, travel restrictions and isolation orders in place, office working was no longer the norm and most of us began working from home. In a “traditional” industry like ours where there is a high reliance on original paperwork, phone calls and face to face family meetings, this was a big adjustment. Fortunately, at Kings Court Trust, our business continuity plan allowed us to transition to home working without any major interruptions.
Registration of death:
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, deaths had to be registered in person at the local register office where the deceased lived. However, due to social distancing requirements and lockdown measures, the process evolved quickly. The new Coronavirus Act 2020 allowed death registration appointments to occur via telephone to allow registrants and workers to stay safe. There was no change to timelines, so deaths needed to be registered within 5 days (or 8 days in Scotland). Additionally, in scenarios where a medical professional was unable to sign the death certificate, provisions were put in place.
Probate application process:
In a significant change to existing policies, the Probate Registry now accepts electronic applications so bereaved families could apply for the Grant of Probate from the comfort of their homes. This process is seen to be much more efficient as it eliminates paper and post, which has been known to result in administrative delays.
Obtaining death certificates have been delayed during the pandemic due to a required quarantine period for medical notes to avoid any viral transmissions via paper. As an alternative, PDF copies of the death certificate were being temporarily accepted to facilitate the process.
Drafting and executing a Will:
With social distancing and self-isolation measures in place, signing a Will in the presence of witnesses became difficult. Most people spent the national lockdown period either on their own with a family member or a beneficiary named in the Will; neither of which can be a witness. This led to a series of legal questions about the meaning of the word ‘presence’ and whether digital signatures were acceptable under these exceptional circumstances. We will discuss how the law has been temporarily amended further down to address this issue.
Remote witnessing of Wills
An amendment to The Wills Act 1837 came into force on 28 September 2020 which allows two people to witness a Will virtually, if in-person witnessing is not possible. It applies to all Wills created between 31 January 2020 and 31 January 2022. This change was welcomed by some due to the flexibility and peace of mind that it offered, however, Wills and probate professionals believe it will result in an increase in disputed Wills as a result of the risks it can present. We will be sure to follow any new trends related to Will disputes in 2021.
Will registration – should it be mandatory?
We recently published an article outlining the fact that there is an estimated value of approximately £15 billion in unclaimed assets. The main reason for this is because a Will could not be located. As a possible solution, Squiggle Consult, a UK-based estate planning firm, launched an online petition to make Will registration mandatory. They believe that better utilisation of the National Will Register could be the answer to the reduction of unclaimed assets, as well as helping families to avoid unnecessary worry and disputes. We look forward to the results of the petition or any further updates on this topic in the new year.
The decrease in Inheritance Tax receipts
For the first time in a decade, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) reported that that the amount of income generated from Inheritance Tax (IHT) decreased to £5.2 billion last year, which is a decrease of £223 million or 4%. Since 2010, the amount of tax paid rose annually at a steady rate of an average of 3% or £4,200 per estate. HMRC attributed this recent reduction to the introduction of the Residence Nil Rate Band back in April 2017, which takes time to make its way through the system to demonstrate its impact. It’s an interesting trend that we will continue to keep an eye on, especially as there could be changes to Inheritance Tax to help economic recovery after the pandemic.
Let’s recap highlights from Kings Court Trust
Price match guarantee
To maintain the competitive, transparent and fair pricing for our award-winning service, we were proud to introduce a price match guarantee to your clients. If your client has been provided with a written quote for an identical service(s) at a lower price from another regulated estate administration provider or Solicitor, we will happily match the price. Full terms and conditions apply, so please see our pricing page for more details.
Financial Asset Search
To assist with the location of all assets during the administration of an estate, we introduced a new service earlier this year – Financial Asset Searches powered by Inheritance Data. The objective was to make the process of gathering accurate information about the deceased's assets, which may include known, unclaimed or lost assets, easier and more efficient. It also benefits the Executor or Administrator of the estate by providing peace of mind that an in-depth and reliable search was done for the deceased’s assets. The service includes searching 200 financial institutions and more than 350 databases for the price of £249 + VAT.
New marketing materials
One of the benefits of partnering with us is having unlimited access to resources to help support you and your clients. In 2020, we were thrilled to bring you a variety of new marketing materials, including:
- Our Executor review checklist to help you discuss Executorship during client meetings.
- Your complete estate administration guide which clearly explains the 10 key steps in the process.
- The ‘What is estate administration?’ leaflet which is a handy A5 guide for clients.
An award-winning year… once again
Last but certainly not least, we were extremely proud to have been awarded the title of Probate Provider of the Year (Large Firms) for the second year in a row at the 2020 British Wills and Probate Awards held in October 2020. The award not only celebrates the successes of the Kings Court Trust team, but is also a testament to your support and hard work as a dedicated business partner. It has been an honour to work together to provide award-winning estate administration services to thousands of families across the country.
In all, 2020 was a year to remember due to its unpredictability, evolutions and successes. We look forward to 2021 and seeing how this year’s events progress into headlines in the coming months.
We hope you enjoy a wonderful and safe Christmas season.