What to do after a loved one dies
Losing a loved one can be not only emotionally difficult but stressful in terms of knowing what you need to do next regarding registering the death and sorting out any legal documentation.
There are a number of things that will need to be sorted, which will vary depending on what your loved one had in their estate. Our probate and estate administration solicitors are here to guide and support you throughout the process of dealing with your loved one’s estate, and answer any questions you may have.
We’ve put together a brief step-by-step guide to help you focus on what you need to do next, to help make things just that little bit easier during this difficult time.
1. Register the death
You first need to register the death. If you are in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, this will need to be done within five days of their passing. It needs to be carried out by a relative, although others are allowed to do so in some circumstances.
The government provides a ‘Tell Us Once’ service, which reports the death to most governmental organisations at once. This includes HMRC, the local council, DVLA and the Passport Office.
The process is different if a coroner is involved and the documents you need to register may be different. Your solicitor can go through this with you.
2. Has your loved one left a Will?
Once you have registered the death, you should check if your loved one left a Will. It’s advisable to do this as soon as you can, as it could include important instructions regarding their funeral arrangements.
If they have a Will, it will set out the nominated person (executor) who will deal with their estate. The estate refers to everything they own, including property, finances, pensions, debts, businesses and personal items. Whoever wrote the Will, i.e. a lawyer, will provide copies to the executors, on receipt of the death certificate.
If your loved one did not make a Will, they have died ‘intestate’. This means an administrator will need to be appointed by the Court, to deal with the estate administration. An administrator is usually a close relative. They can gather information regarding the estate in order to make an application to become an administrator. However, they have no authority to administer the estate until the order has been granted.
3. Arrange the funeral
Once you have the Will, check for any funeral wishes they may have, including if they have a funeral plan in place or if they prefer a burial or cremation.
Organising the funeral can be an upsetting process; however, funeral directors will advise and assist you the whole way.
If a financial plan isn’t already in place for the funeral, it’s worth getting a few quotes from funeral directors around your area.
Funeral costs are a ‘priority debt’, meaning they must be paid before other liabilities relating to the estate. It’s commonplace for the cost of the funeral to be paid from the deceased’s bank account if there are funds to satisfy the invoice. This can be achieved by taking the funeral invoice into the bank along with the death certificate (and a copy of the Will if there is one). The bank will issue payment directly to the funeral director.
4. Deal with the estate
If their house has been left unoccupied, you’ll need to contact their home insurance providers to make them aware of the situation. You may need to arrange for the property to be visited by estate agents and other general maintenance whilst the estate administration is ongoing.
It will be down to the executor/s or administrator/s to take charge of the finances. If there are any debts, they are payable from the estate and the executor/administrator are responsible to settle them.
Depending upon the deceased’s circumstances, payment of Inheritance Tax (IHT) may need to be arranged at the start of the administration process, although the timescales and costs can vary. Your solicitor will be able to give you further details on this.
If the deceased’s estate includes properties or shares, or if the value of monies held in bank accounts is substantial, you may need to apply for a grant of representation. This is also known as a grant of probate or letters of administration to deal with these assets.
5. Grants of probate
If you are named as an executor, this doesn’t mean that you can distribute their assets immediately. If your loved one has a reasonable amount of capital, i.e. property, personal items of value, investments or they died due to medical negligence or personal injury, you may need to apply for a grant of probate.
What is a grant of probate?
A grant of probate is what the court ‘grants’ to prove that the executor is entitled to manage the estate. Probate itself is the process of ‘proving’ a Will in court – in other words, confirming that it really does represent the final wishes of your relative.
Commonly, you may need a grant of probate when dealing with the deceased’s assets. Accounts and property in joint names can pass to a surviving owner without the need for probate.
If your loved one passes away intestate, you’ll require a grant of letters of administration. This is different to a grant of probate but has a similar legal effect.
Other things to remember
Whilst dealing with the death of a loved one, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and forget what you need to do when organising their affairs and estate.
Aside from the above, it’s useful to remember the below to help make the process easier and smoother for you and your family.
- If the property is unoccupied, ensure it is secure and insured
- Gather information regarding the assets and liabilities in the estate
- Pay any Inheritance Tax
- If your loved one had a pet and there’s no one to look after it, call your local animal shelter or charity
- Notify any utility companies such as internet providers, water or electricity
- Check for any outstanding debts
- Make sure you can contact all beneficiaries mentioned in the Will
- Make creditors aware of the death to avoid future problems
- For probate purposes, your loved one’s property will need to be valued by an estate agent
- Obtain the date of death valuations from financial institutions such as banks, shareholdings and NS&I
How we can help
When a loved one passes away, dealing with their estate can seem like a daunting task. Our highly experienced lawyers are here to offer the sensitive, practical support you need.
You may wish for us to help you deal with the estate administration or to handle the whole process for you. Either way, our probate lawyers in Bristol and South Gloucestershire are here for you. Call us on 0117 325 2929 or complete our online enquiry form.