On 24 April 2020, the Masters' Courts Northern Ireland issued COVID-19 Guidance for Grants of Probate & Grants of Administration. Further Guidance was handed down on 30 June 2020 and is effective until Friday 4 September 2020 when it will be reviewed again.
Where the deceased individual leaves a valid Will, the application to Court is for a Grant of Probate. The person(s) applying is known as executor(s). Where there is no Will then it is a Grant of Administration, and the applicant(s) is known as administrator(s). We will refer to both processes simply as "Grants of Representation" and executors / administrators as "personal representatives".
The Guidance makes the following procedural amendments:
Ordinarily, the personal representative must swear an affidavit to confirm their right to administer the estate of the deceased. Typically, the affidavit is sworn at a solicitor's office. The Guidance makes clear that an affidavit should still be used wherever possible but recognises that this may cause difficulties because of current government guidance on social distancing. Therefore, in circumstances where an affidavit cannot be obtained, the Master "will accept Statements of Truth signed by the applicant rather than affidavits". The Guidance sets out the specific wording to use. The Statement just needs to be signed - there is no requirement for any witnesses.
But where a Statement of Truth is used and there is a dispute or complication then the Master may not be able to action the application until such times as affidavit evidence becomes available.
If a Statement of Truth is lodged with the application, the Master will accept a copy of the Will instead of the original. The copy must still bear the personal representative's initials. A certificate must accompany the application certifying that the initialed copy is a true copy of the original Will.
All applications for Grants of Representations must be accompanied by a completed checklist confirming that the application satisfies and complies with the relevant law, latest guidance and practice notes. The Probate office will not process an application unless a signed checklist is lodged.
The probate office will continue to issue Grants of Representation but due to reduced staff resources, usual turnaround times will not apply.
Applications which do not comply with the latest Guidance risk being delayed or rejected. Therefore, applicants must familiarise themselves with the changes so as to ensure applications are drafted correctly.
If you need any support, please call the team on 0800 138 6880.