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Administering an estate during the COVID-19 pandemic

The death of a loved can be hard for everyone involved and the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic may add additional stress through this difficult time.

There are many ways that COVID-19 may impact executors and beneficiaries of a deceased’s estate, which may include: 

  • Making funeral arrangements – taking into consideration the number of people able to attend. Current Queensland government social distancing directives now restricting the number of funerals attendees to a maximum of 100 people.
  • Travel restrictions.
  • In-person meetings minimised.
  • Access to the estate assets – especially if executors are interstate.

Can I still administer an estate during COVID-19?

The good news is, that as an executor, you can still execute your legal responsibilities, despite restrictions imposed by COVID-19.

An executor’s duties must continue to be met, regardless of limitations currently in place. It is essential that executors are aware of their obligations to ensure the estate is correctly administered.

Although there may be practical difficulties in dealing with the estate administration, most institutions are adapting to the changes in current circumstances.

Executors should be wary of the following as they try to manage a deceased’s estate during the COVID-19 pandemic:

1. Estate distributions

Beneficiaries who are experiencing financial difficultly during the COVID-19 crisis, might be asking for early distributions. Executors should be sure that they have satisfied all of the deceased’s debts and are aware of any risks to early distribution.

Distributing assets early can cause significant problems as it can be very easy to lose track of who has received what and how this will affect the remaining amounts.

If the estate has been distributed too early, there is the risk that the executor may become personally liable.

2. Obtaining a grant of representation

It is important for an executor to obtain a grant of Probate or Letters of Administration (as the case may be) if required.

During COVID-19 the Supreme Court Register is still open accepting grant applications.

By obtaining a grant earlier than later, may avoid disgruntled beneficiaries eager to receive their entitlement.

Under the Government’s COVID-19 recommendations, many people have opted to stay home and socially isolate.

You may need to consider arrangements to circulate original application documents among several parties to sign (especially if appointed executors are interstate). This may add to the time it takes to process such applications, especially given current COVID-19 postal delays.

3. Addressing claims being made against the estate

An executor may receive notice of a claim brought against the estate by a family member who has been excluded from the Will or is unhappy with their limited entitlement under the Will.

This rise of claims against a deceased estate is expected to continue in these unprecedented times, as many people are facing financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is important that the executor takes steps to address any claim and limit the risk to the estate.

Unfortunately, despite the best intentions of the executor, there may be the potential for a beneficiary to criticise the way in which an estate has been administered.

It is best to deal with any concerns promptly in order to avoid any misunderstandings. If an executor is not sure how to respond or deal with the situation, it is best to seek professional advice.

4. Obtaining professional advice

Failure to obtain proper advice can result in the executor unknowingly neglecting their legal duties and making mistakes.

It is important to note that each estate is different in its composition. Understanding these implications requires an analysis of the assets of the estate, the terms of the Will and the beneficiaries involved.

Given the uncertainty of the current economic climate, executors should keep in mind how the deceased’s estate assets should be dealt with so as to best maximise their value.

This may require obtaining advice from a financial advisor or accountant on the timing of disposing of certain assets such as shares and property in order to preserve the overall value of the estate.

If you are an appointed executor and you are unsure about your responsibilities, you should seek legal advice from an estates lawyer as soon as possible.

How Wills Estates Probate Lawyers can help administering an estate during COVID-19

We aim to provide our clients with information on a range of deceased estates matters to ensure that the process is as smooth as possible, at a time when support may be needed most.

In response to the COVID-19 challenges, Wills Estates Probate Lawyers are practising social distancing in our offices and arranging teleconferencing and video conferencing when necessary or at your request.

If you require any advice on administrating a deceased estate, do not hesitate to contact us.

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Duncan MacDougall

Written by—

Duncan MacDougall

Call 07 3035 4077 to speak with our team now