3 April 2020
The Ministry of Justice has been asked to consider relaxing some of the formalities around the execution of documents such as Wills and Lasting Powers of Attorney in view of the social distancing measures imposed by the government in response to the coronavirus pandemic. A Will, for example, normally has to be signed by the person making it in the presence of two witnesses. Presence is generally taken to mean physical presence, so watching someone execute a Will on a video-conferencing call would not be sufficient. However, it is acceptable for a witness to observing someone sign a Will though a window.
The existing rules are designed to protect people signing important documents at a time when they themselves might be vulnerable. Any change is unlikely to come quickly and may in any event be overtaken by passing of the current crisis. For the moment, therefore, solicitors and their clients will have to find ways of continuing to work with the rules as they are.
14 October 2019
The Ministry of Justice has scrapped plans for a dramatic increase in probate fees which would have seen the existing flat-rate system replaced with fees of between £250 and £6,000 for estates worth more than £50,000.
An earlier plan to raise probate fees was dropped just before the 2017 general election but then revived in 2018. This time, however, it seems that the idea has been killed off for good. The plan was the subject of fierce opposition by Conservative-supporting newspapers such as The Telegraph. The charity sector also welcomed the decision, as the higher fees were expected to cut into the share of estates left to charities.
5 August 2019
The Guardianship of Missing Persons Act 2017 has come into force. This provides a means for relatives of someone who is missing to try to protect the property or financial assets of that person, for example by keeping up mortgage payments on a house or renewing an insurance policy. It also allows dependants of the missing person to continue to receive support from that person's resources. The procedure requires an application to the court for the appointment of a guardian who must abide by a supervisory regime designed to protect the interests of the missing person.
13 February 2019
The cost of a death certificate is to rise from £4 to £11 in England and Wales on 16 February. The increase has been set by the General Register Office, which is accountable to the Home Office.
In the past, individuals dealing with estates might have ordered several certificates to send to local and national authorities, banks, pension providers and others as evidence of a death. The increased cost of a death certificate is likely to encourage a greater use of certified copies wherever possible. In addition, some government agencies as well as financial institutions can be advised of a death through the single-notification systems which are now available.