I deal with estate work every day. However, most people who are facing the task of administering an estate have never done it before and to top it off, they generally have to do it whilst they are grieving. Having recently lost one of my own family members, I saw my mum thrown into the role of Executor, not knowing where to begin and struggling emotionally. Luckily she had help at hand (me!) and I hope that I can give you a few pointers about the process; from registering a death to obtaining the grant of probate.
A step-by-step process
In most cases, the very first step is to contact the undertaker so that the deceased can be taken into their care.
Next you have to register the death. You must do this in order to get the forms needed by the undertaker and to obtain the death certificate, which is required to deal with the deceased’s money and property.
Before you can register a death, you should obtain the medical cause of death certificate which will be provided by the person’s GP or the hospital where they passed away. Once you have the medical cause of death certificate you can then make an appointment with the Registrar to register the death and obtain the death certificate.
Registering the death: Preparing for the appointment
Before your appointment with the registrar you will need to get things in order, including confirming the wishes of the deceased in relation to funeral arrangements and gathering the necessary information and documents.
You will need to make sure that you are entitled to begin to deal with the estate. Is there a Will? Are you the Executor? If there is no Will, are you the next of kin? If you are not sure, you need to check. If there is a Will, usually the deceased will have a copy at home and will have advised the Executors of its existence. You should check if it states any funeral wishes. Have they written them down somewhere or discussed them with you or other family members? You will need to know whether there is going to be a burial or a cremation so that at your appointment to register the death you are given the correct form to pass to the undertaker.
You also need to know that the deceased has enough money to pay for the funeral before you go ahead and plan it. If you do arrange a funeral and there is not enough money in the estate, you will be expected to foot the bill. Should there be enough money to pay the funeral in the deceased’s bank account, the bank will usually release a cheque to pay the funeral upon sight of the original invoice, even if the rest of the account is ‘frozen’ pending the issue of the Grant of Probate (see below).
At the appointment to register the death, you will need to take along certain information such as the deceased’s date of birth, place of birth, National Insurance Number, NHS number, details of their occupation, and former name (e.g. a married woman’s maiden name). You can also take along their passport, driving licence and pension information should you wish the Registrar to use the Tell us Once service which advises government agencies of the death. You will be given a copy of the death certificate and you can buy more – you will need a copy for each bank, life insurance company, share company etc.
Dealing with the estate
Once you have the death certificate you can then begin the process of advising the deceased’s banks, etc. in order to collect in the estate. For many, this is an onerous task and they prefer a solicitor to deal with it. We can of course write to the banks for you to find out what is in the estate and deal with the application for Probate or Letters of Administration and then wind up the estate.
1. Determine the value of the estate
The first step in dealing with collecting in the estate is to find out what the deceased has and the value of the estate. This will determine whether a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration is required.
2. Apply for Probate or Letters of Administration and pay IHT
The need for Probate depends on the value of the estate and the assets in it. Probate is obtained where there is a Will. Letters of Administration is obtained where there is no Will. Should any Inheritance Tax be payable, this will need to be paid before the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration is issued.
It is worth noting that we can act for you in preparing the Probate application and dealing with the Inheritance Tax papers, should you wish to administer the estate yourself.
3. Finalise any matters relating to income
As well as finding out what assets there are, you also need to finalise matters relating to the deceased’s income. You will need to stop pensions, repay any overpayment from the estate and deal with the final Income Tax bill. Again, we deal with all those matters when administering an estate on your behalf.
4. Close bank accounts and administer the estate
Once the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration has been obtained, the banks should then close the accounts in accordance with your instructions. You can then pay debts and administer the estate in accordance with the Will or the Rules of Intestacy. If you are unsure, seek advice.
As you can see, there is a lot to do and many processes to go through. It can be a difficult job, thrust upon you at an extremely difficult time. Don’t forget that we are here to help and advise you. The cost of instructing a Solicitor may not be as much as you think.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice, and the law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice on their own particular circumstances.