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What to do when someone dies – Probate Help

Dealing with the death of a family member can be difficult.

If you have been appointed as a Personal Representative of the deceased (either as either an Executor – which means you are appointed under the Will or an Administrator – appointed according to statutory rules) you have a number of official functions and obligations to perform when dealing with the deceased’s Estate (the Estate usually comprises of the property owned by the deceased and their possessions and other assets).

This guide is designed to assist you through these initial stages.

We are however here to help.


Registering the death – to be carried out within 5 days of death

In Havering, you can refer to our specific guide.

Generally however  the registration is dealt with by a relative or someone who was present at the death but as a Personal Representative  who is going to arrange the funeral  you can also register the death even if you are not a family member.

You can use the Government Website to assist with this https://www.gov.uk/register-a-death

You will need to take along:

  • medical certificate of cause of death (from the doctor);
  • deceased person’s birth certificate;
  • any marriage/civil partnership certificate(s);
  • deceased person’s passport and driving licence;
  • proof of their home address; and
  • any pension or state benefit book (including their NI number).

You will also need to provide:

  • any other names or aliases that the deceased person was known by,
  • their occupation; and
  • the occupation of their spouse (wife or husband).
  • You will also need identification such as a passport and proof of address for yourself.

Once the registration is complete you will be provided with:

  • the death certificate (we recommend that you should ask for several “certified copies” of the death certificate. Certified copies are the only copies accepted by banks and other financial institutions as proof of the death and you may need to send several copies out at a time);
  • a green form which then needs to be passed on to the funeral director; and
  • a registration form relating to state pension or benefits.

In Havering and other areas your can use the Government The Tell Us Once service to inform central and local government services of the person’s death in one go. This is free and will reduce the number of different government and other departments you need to contact separately.

Locate the Will

You cannot always be sure if the deceased had a Will and where it is located. Hopefully the deceased was organised and told you where the will was stored – either in their persona effects or with a local solicitor or bank. If not you need to search for either the original or a copy or evidence that once was made for example correspondence with a solicitor or will writer.

Solicitors can make searches of their records or use organisations who store information on Wills. .

If you do fine the will then it is worth noting that only the executors appointed in the Will are entitled to know the contents of the Will at this early stage. The Will is confidential until formal probate has been granted.

If you find a Will, you can initially identify who the executors are and usually establish  if the deceased had any specific funeral wishes. A solicitor or bank holding the will will also be able to tell you this.

The executors can apply fora grant of Probate (see below).

If there is no Will

As noted above if there is no Will then the Personal Representatives are worked out under the “intestacy rules” which also determined to whom the deceased’s estate is left to. Technically the Personal Representatives under intestacy rules are not officially appointed until  the grant of the “letters of administration” (which is the equivalent to the grant of Probate.

This is a technical area and we suggest you call us to help you establish the next steps and explain how the intestacy rules apply to your personal circumstances.

Informing family and friends

You may need to check the deceased’s personal effects for their address book, phone and e-mail accounts to informal friends and relations of the death and, when arranged, the funeral details. Remember the contents of the Will may still be confidential at this stage.

Arranging the funeral

Again it is usual for the family to arrange the funeral but again this can fall on the Personal Representatives to make these arrangements. As noted above you should take note of the wishes if any in the deceased’s Will. You would also naturally consult family members. Ultimately the decision falls on the Personal Representative to decide.

It is worth noting that the person arranging the funeral will be responsible for the cost however this can be recovered from the estate. We can assist in organising this for you – there may be a specific funeral plan in place but if not in most cases you can use money held in the deceased’s bank or building society account. Many funeral directors may accept this.

Securing the property and other assets

As a Personal Representative you have a duty to keep the property and possessions of the deceased safe and secure during the administration process.

If the deceased person lived alone, make sure that their property is secure as soon as possible and notify the insurance company about the death. You should  check whether the current insurance is sufficient and valid – you may need to consider empty property insurance.

Clearly any cash and valuables should be secured – you can take possession of these but it is a good idea to document this (a mobile phone photo or video is a useful way of doing this). Clearly such items should not be left at an unattended property.

Administering the Estate

There are two deadlines that Personal Representatives should be aware of when administering the estate:

  1. interest starts to run on unpaid Inheritance Tax (sometimes referred to as IHT)  from six months after the end of month in which the person died;
  2. the filing deadline for the IHT account is twelve months from the end of the month in which the person died.

Although these timescales seem generous it can take some time to work out what the Estate is made up of i.e. what assets they owned, what those assets are worth, what debts they owed and the amount of the debts.

Once you have established exactly what the deceased owned, owed or was owed you can prepare and submit the details of the Estate along with any IHT due to HMRC and the Probate Registry.

Once you have the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration you can start collecting in the assets and pay off any debts – this will include tax. You may need to advertise for creditors and consider if any claims may be made against the Estate.

Once you have a final position on the money you will need to distribute the remainder of the estate to the Benficaries in accordance with the Will or by following the intestacy rules. Warning:  this “distribution” process must be handled very carefully and in a specified order and will require specialist advice from a solicitor.

Involving Solicitors

Some Wills will appoint professionals alongside you in the Will. However, even if they are not appointed in the Will or the deceased died intestate (without a Will) then you may need to decide whether or not to instruct a specialist probate solicitor, such as our firm, to act or assist you in the Estate administration. Reasonable legal or other professional fees incurred by the Personal Representative in the administration of the Estate can be paid out of the Estate so the liability will not fall on you.

We can provide you with a quote of our likely fees (which will broadly depend on factors such as the size and complexity of the deceased person’s estate).

The level of work which we can assist you with can vary. We can:

  • complete the entire administration of the Estate (including dealing with any IHT income tax or capital gains tax liabilities which arise during the administration period).
  • prepare the IHT return and papers for the probate application only.

Obviously you can complete the entire process yourself.  However we know how time consuming this can be and it can sometimes involve some complex issues. On a personal level it may be any additional emotional strain. What may seem straightforward at the outset may become a more complex probate matter as the assets and liabilities in the estate are investigated.

As specialist probate lawyers we can assist you with all of your obligations in administering the estate and help you with that burden.

For further information call or email David Farr – David.Farr@ker.co.uk  01708 707821


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