The current COVID-19 ‘lockdown’ situation can feel like life has been put on hold temporarily, especially when additional time has been provided for doing certain things e.g. the 6 month extension for renewing vehicle MOT certificates.
However, it is important to remember that some important deadlines and time limits still apply. For example, in claims under Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (the ‘Inheritance Act’), where there is a strict 6 month time limit from the date when the grant of probate is issued.
The Inheritance Act is important because it allows certain relatives and financial dependants to bring claims for ‘reasonable financial provision’ from an estate, if they are either left out of a will or receive less inheritance than they anticipated.
Who can claim under the Inheritance Act?
Those who qualify to bring a claim under the Inheritance Act include:
- A spouse or civil partner of the deceased
- The former spouse or civil partner of the deceased (who has not remarried or entered into a new civil partnership)
- A child of the deceased
- Anyone who was treated as the deceased’s child e.g. a stepchild
- Certain cohabiting partners (please note this does not apply to all cohabitees)
- Anyone who was financially dependent upon the deceased immediately prior to the deceased’s death.
What if a claimant misses the time limit?
If an Inheritance Act claim is not issued prior to the limitation date, the claimant requires the court’s permission to bring their claim ‘out of time’.
In exceptional circumstances, the court may extend the time limit, but potential claimants should not assume that the COVID-19 pandemic will guarantee such an extension. COVID-19 is an unprecedented situation, so it is not yet clear how the courts will treat late claims, where the claimant states that the delay occurred as a direct result of the pandemic.
Currently, those living in England & Wales have been subject to current social distancing requirements for less than one month. Whilst there may be some people who were self-isolating for longer than this (or who may have been unwell), it is unlikely that most late Inheritance Act time limits at this stage will only be due to COVID-19 or the social distancing requirements.
It is therefore important to remember that, currently the only way to guarantee that an Inheritance Act claim is made within the limitation period, is to issue proceedings within 6 months of the grant of probate.
What if someone has missed the 6 month deadline?
Prior to COVID-19, if the Inheritance Act limitation period was missed, then the court would examine each request to bring a late claim on its own merits and that is likely to continue.
As mentioned above, the court does have discretion to grant permission for Inheritance Act claims to be brought out of time. It is therefore possible that the courts might take into account the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that may only apply where it can be shown that the deadline was missed as a result of this.
If you are concerned about the expiry of a limitation period under the Inheritance Act, or require specialist advice with regard to a potential claim, it is important to obtain this as soon as possible.
Given social distancing restrictions, it may not be possible to meet with a solicitor in person, but most solicitors are able to discuss matters remotely. Contact our Inheritance Act solicitors by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 01202 786152.