What to do following the death of a loved one.

14th JULY 2022

The death of a loved one will be a very difficult time, made more stressful by the responsibilities that you might have to undertake to get the probate process started. If it is an option for you, seeking legal advice can be a great help. If that is not an option, we hope that this article can help you to understand some of the key responsibilities you will need to take on.

For free initial advice call our advisors or request a callback and we will contact you.

Registering the death

The first thing you will need to do following the death of a loved one is to register the death with the government. The only people authorised to register a death are relatives to the deceased, anyone present at the death, hospital administrators, or the person who is arranging the funeral.

If the cause of death was clear and not unexpected, the doctor will issue you with a Medical Certificate, which is required to register the death. You should contact the Registrar in your loved one’s local area to register the death within five days of it happening.

If the death was sudden or unexpected, or the cause of death is unclear, the doctor will need to contact a Coroner, who will decide whether a Cause of Death Certificate can be issued. This certificate can then be used to register the death.

Ask your Registrar if they provide a Tell Us Once service. This is a service that allows you to notify multiple government organisations at once to save you some time and hassle. To use this service, you will need your loved one’s National Insurance number, passport, driving license, and any details regarding state benefits that they were receiving, if applicable.

Arranging the funeral

Before arranging the funeral, you should check with your relatives to find out whether the deceased expressed any wishes for the ceremony. If not, you should check the deceased’s Will, as some people include a statement or Letter of Wishes to let their relatives know whether they would prefer to be cremated or buried.

Some people purchase a funeral plan prior to passing away which takes the financial burden off their relatives. Often, it is possible to arrange payment directly from the deceased’s bank account to the funeral director.

Locate the Will

If you have not yet found the Will at this point, you should first establish whether your loved one actually wrote one. Try searching through their paperwork or asking Solicitors local to your loved one’s area. If you find that a Solicitor has the Will in storage, they will be able to release it to you provided you are the executor named in the Will.

The executor is important to this process as this is the person who is in charge of administering the estate through a process known as probate. The executor is the person who distributes assets from the estate to the beneficiaries listed in the Will. It is common for the deceased to have named a close loved one (such as a spouse or child) as their executor, and it is likely that this person will also be a key beneficiary of their estate.

If you have determined that there is no Will, your relative has died ‘intestate’. In this situation, the beneficiaries are determined by the laws of intestacy, which favours relatives in order of closeness to the deceased, with spouses and children being the first to benefit. Instead of an executor, there will be an administrator who will need to take on the same responsibility of administering the estate.

Valuing the estate

If you have found the Will and you have determined that you are responsible for acting as the executor of your loved one’s estate (or the administrator if there is no Will), your next responsibility will be to identify and value the estate.

If there is a Will, it is possible that the deceased included an inventory of their possessions, which will help you greatly. If this is not the case, then you should begin by going through their paperwork to determine who they held bank accounts with and whether they held any other assets such as stocks, shares, and premium bonds.

You can value your loved one’s estate by contacting the organisations through which they held assets and noting down the value of each. While you are doing this, be sure to notify each organisation of the death so that they can protect the value of their assets and freeze any active accounts.

If the deceased owned property, you will need to locate the deeds or contact the Land Registry. The property will need to be valued alongside any valuable personal possessions held within, such as jewellery, watches, and antiques. When you have access to the property, you must ensure that all doors and windows are locked and it is as secure as possible. Any valuable possessions should be taken into your own care until they are distributed to avoid the risk of theft.

Once you have finished valuing the assets contained within your loved one’s estate, you should value their liabilities, if applicable. This includes any unpaid debts or taxes. These will need to be paid with money from the estate before assets can be distributed to the beneficiaries. If there is not enough money within the estate to pay these liabilities, then valuable possessions or property will need to be sold to cover the cost.

When you have your final valuation of the estate, you can determine whether a Grant of Probate (or a Grant of Letters of Administration if there is no Will) is required to distribute funds and assets to the beneficiaries.

If the entire estate is valued at less than £5,000 and there is no solely owned property, then probate will likely not be required. Where the estate is worth more than £5,000 and there is solely owned property, you will need this Grant before you can access the funds or sell or transfer the property to the beneficiaries.

If you are confused at any point during this process, you may find it helpful to contact a professional. Here at Kwil, we offer a probate service through which our expert legal team can acquire your Grant of Probate for you. We also offer a full estate administration service whereby our team will handle the entire probate process for you, from acquiring the Grant to distributing the assets to the beneficiaries. This is well worth considering if you are a busy person who doesn’t have the free time to deal with such a huge responsibility, or if you simply don’t want the hassle of learning how this complex legal process works.

For free initial advice call our advisors or request a callback and we will contact you.