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Are you an executor during the COVID-19 pandemic?

You may be wondering what to do if a loved one or a friend has died during the COVID-19 pandemic and you have been appointed as the executor of his or her will.

We recognise that it can be an emotional time and there are measures in place to assist you to undertake your legal obligations as safely as possible.

Social Distancing Restrictions

Generally the social distancing measures provide that all persons in NSW must stay at home unless for certain exemptions.  Relevantly, the exemptions available to executors are as follows:

  • To deal with emergencies or on compassionate grounds – for example, if a loved one or a friend is dying or has died.
  • To provide care or assistance (including personal care) to a vulnerable person or to provide emergency assistance – for example, to provide assistance to a spouse of the deceased person where you are the executor.
  • To attend a funeral (limited to a total of 10 people, excluding the person/s necessary to conduct the funeral e.g. funeral director). or
  • To undertake legal obligations.

Organising a burial or cremation

One of the important duties of the executor is to arrange for the burial or cremation of the deceased person.  We suggest making enquiries with the funeral directors on the current NSW regulations with regards to disposal of bodies to minimise transmission of COVID-19.  

A funeral service may be attended by a maximum of 10 people and take place in a space with at least 4 square metres per person. 

Currently most funerals are limited to just a burial/cremation service.  Unfortunately this means that it may not be possible to provide the style of funeral or burial or celebration of life that a loved one or a friend would have expected.  We suggest an executor plan, once the COVID-19 pandemic is over and the restrictions of social gathering are lifted, to hold a memorial or a celebration of life service for the deceased person in a manner that a loved one or a friend would have expected.

What Next?

  • If you know you are the executor, locate the original will or contact the solicitor who holds the original will.
  • Gather all necessary paperwork to identify the assets and liabilities of a loved one or a friend.
  • If there are specific gifts mentioned in the will, we recommend securing those gifts until they can be dealt with at an appropriate time
  • Check that all appropriate insurances on the assets of the deceased person are in place, especially on a home or other real estate and on a car.
  • Notify the death of a loved one or a friend by telephone, post or email to all relevant banks, Centrelink, Roads Maritime Services, utilities/services, professional service providers Discontinue any regular services such as grocery deliveries or visiting nursing services.

How can I undertake my legal obligations safely?

A temporary regulation was introduced by the NSW Parliament on 22 April 2020 to allow for the witnessing of legal documents via video conferencing technology such as Zoom, Loop Up, FaceTime, Skype and WhatsApp for the next six months, or until earlier as decided by the NSW Parliament.  This measure could assist executors to safely undertake any signing of documents while maintaining social distancing or remaining in isolation.

We have the technology and tools to assist you to undertake your legal obligations without any delay. 

At an appropriate time, usually when you have obtained the original death certificate issued by the Registry of Births Deaths & Marriages, we can assist you, if required, to apply for the grant of probate in the usual course.  The probate will allow you to instruct is to  deal with the assets and liabilities, attend to any tax obligations and distribute in accordance with the terms of the will without being unduly frustrated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Josephine Heesh, Partner
Adelaide Ryan, Associate

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