It can be difficult, even at the best of times, to deal with the formalities of administering the estate of someone who has died. The Covid-19 crisis has added an extra and unwelcome dimension to this experience. 

In Scotland, Executors appointed under a Will or, where there is no Will, those appointed by the Court (known as ‘Executors Dative’) must apply to the Sheriff Court for what is known as Confirmation (known in some other jurisdictions as Probate or Letters of Administration). This process gives the Executors authority to collect in the assets of the person who has died and then distribute them, having paid any inheritance tax which may be due and settled any other outstanding liabilities.

At the beginning of the current UK ‘lockdown’ period, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (‘SCTS’) ceased dealing with anything but urgent matters. It has, however, announced that it will begin from 1st May 2020 to again process Confirmation applications and appointments of Executors Dative, whether urgent or not. 

The Confirmation process cannot, unlike its equivalent in England and Wales, be carried out electronically and the Courts still require paper applications to be sent to them, together with the original Will and any other testamentary writings and other relevant documentation. 

At present, only ten Sheriff Courts in Scotland are operating: Aberdeen, Dundee, Dumfries, Edinburgh, Falkirk, Glasgow, Hamilton, Inverness, Kilmarnock and Paisley. These ‘hub Courts’ will be responsible for receiving and processing Confirmation applications, including for those which would ordinarily be sent to Courts currently closed. As a result of this, and given a significant reduction in staff resources during the current crisis, the advice which SCTS has given is that, after 1st May, Executors should expect applications to be processed more slowly than usual. This will, inevitably, have an effect on the speed with which Executors can access assets and distribute them to beneficiaries until such time as Covid-19-related government restrictions are eased and the SCTS workforce is back to full strength. 

If you have any queries about applications for Confirmation, please contact your usual Turcan Connell adviser or email enquiries@turcanconnell.com.