Herrington Carmichael: What to do when a loved one dies

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When someone close to you passes away, it can be difficult to know what exactly needs to be done in the immediate aftermath from an administrative point of view.  This guide is designed to help you navigate the process in a methodical way.

  1. Getting hold of their Will
    If the deceased made a Will prior to their death, then a search of their important papers should be made to find it, or a copy of it. If the Will was professionally made by a solicitor, the solicitor will usually have arranged for it to be stored in a secure facility. If you can find a copy of the Will, this will show the name and address of the solicitors that you need to contact, but bear in mind that the solicitors will only let you see the contents of the Will provided you are an Executor. 

Care must be taken to ensure that the provisions of the Will are carried out and in cases where the deceased’s Will contains a Trust, it is always advisable to seek legal advice on its effect.

  1. When there is no Will
    If you cannot find a Will or copy of a Will amongst the deceased’s important papers and you believe they made one, Will search companies can do a blanket enquiry at all local solicitor firms in an effort to locate it. If it appears that the deceased did not make a Will, then generally it is advisable to seek legal advice on what to do next. 
  2. Paying for the funeral
    It is possible that the deceased had purchased a funeral plan so it is worth checking this first. 

Even though bank accounts are frozen, many banks are still prepared to release money for the funeral of an account-holder. It is a good idea to call the banks where the deceased held accounts to check first.

An executor or beneficiary may decide to pay the costs of the deceased’s funeral and then reimburse themselves later from the estate.

Remember: funeral expenses are deducted from the deceased’s estate when inheritance tax is being calculated so the solicitor will want a copy of the funeral invoice.

  1. When there’s an empty house
    It is very important to ensure that the deceased has a home insurance policy covering the buildings and contents.  The insurers will need to be informed of the death and asked to continue the cover.

If you cannot find any documents relating to a home insurance policy and you are an Executor, you will be required to arrange this.

You may find that some insurers impose quite demanding conditions when they are being asked to cover a property that is unoccupied, and in certain circumstances they will restrict some of the perils that are covered; so care must be taken to ensure that any continuing policy meets requirements. If you need assistance with arranging home insurance for an empty property, a solicitor will be able to help you.

When you leave the house, take care to ensure that all possessions of the deceased are left secure and all windows/doors are locked.

It can also be useful to arrange a postal redirection in case you may not be able to visit the property regularly.

  1. Paying the deceased’s bills and liabilities
    Usually, once a bank has been notified of the death and been provided with a copy of the death certificate, all accounts held in the deceased’s sole name will be frozen until a Grant has been obtained.  Direct debits and regular payments will therefore stop.

This is concerning if the deceased paid household bills from their account, and in this situation, it will be necessary to inform those companies of the death.

Utility companies will require meter readings to send a final bill, which can be paid from the estate funds.

Once settled, the companies will open up new accounts in the name of the executors/administrators, who will then be responsible for paying the bills until the deceased’s property is sold.

  1. Registering the death
    The death must be registered within five days after it occurred. The people who can register the death include a relative, someone who was present at the death and anyone who has decided to arrange the funeral. The death must be registered with the Registrar in the local authority where the deceased died.

You can request multiple copies of the death certificate and it is wise to do so as you will need to send these copies to the various banks/companies where the deceased held assets to inform them of the death. 

  1. Notifying government agencies of the death
    Many local authorities offer the Department of Work and Pensions ‘Tell Us Once’ service, which allows you to notify a number of government departments of the death in one go. The Registrar who issues the death certificate will tell you if this service is available in your area.
  2. Getting a Grant of Probate – what is it and is it necessary?
    A Grant of Probate is a legal document that confirms that the executor has authority to deal with the deceased person’s assets.

You may have heard that a Grant of Probate is necessary to deal with the deceased’s assets, however this is not always the case. Firstly, a Grant of Probate is only relevant when the deceased had made a Will. If there was no Will, then you would need to apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration.

If the deceased’s assets were fairly nominal then quite often the asset provider will not require a Grant.

Assets owned jointly pass to the surviving co-owner automatically, under a concept known as Survivorship, therefore generally no Grant is needed for this.

The process of applying for a Grant can vary in complexity depending on the size of the estate and assets owned by the deceased and careful consideration should be given to any taxes that may arise as a result of the death. 

  1. Selling the property the deceased lived in

If the deceased was the sole owner of their property, a Grant will be required to enable the executors/administrators to sell it.  It is possible for the Executors to market the property during this time, however contracts cannot be exchanged until the Grant is obtained.

Where the deceased owned the property as a ‘joint tenant’, then arrangements should be made to transfer the ownership to the surviving co-owner.  The situation is more complex if the deceased owned the property jointly with somebody else as ‘tenants in common’ and if this is the case, a solicitor will be able to assist you in dealing with the Land Registry.     

For further advice and information, please contact our Private Client team on 0118 977 4045.

This reflects the law at the date of publication and is written as a general guide. It does not contain definitive legal advice, which should be sought as appropriate in relation to a particular matter.

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