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Where to begin when a loved one passes away

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Unfortunately, many of us will find ourselves at some point in our lives having to administer the affairs of someone who has passed away. As family and friends come to terms with their loss, here at Stephensons we are often asked the question – “what should I do now?”

While there is no one size fits all answer to this question, as every estate and personal circumstance tends to be different, this guide is designed to give you a few starting points.

Register the death

When a loved one dies, it is important that you register the death within five days of their passing (in England and Wales). The hospital, hospice or GP will usually be able to advise on this and the government website has lots of useful information to guide you through the process.

Organise a funeral

A funeral can only take place after the death has been registered and again the government website has lots of useful information on this including what benefits or assistance may be claimed to help towards the cost of the funeral.

Tell the government about the death

We all have lots of official government documents such as passports, driving licences and state benefits claims, and they will all need cancelling. The government have a useful “tell us once service” that cancels many of these things in one go. The registrar will be able to help you with that and the government website also has further details.

Tell other institutions and organisations

As well as letting the government know, you will also need to contact any other relevant organisations or institutions such as the bank, insurers and utility providers. All of these have different processes and forms to fill in, but most have a dedicated bereavement department who are usually very good at advising and handling these things.

Does there have to be a Will and what if there isn’t?

Sometimes people hold property jointly, such as a joint bank account or owning a house together, as what is known as joint tenants. If property is held jointly in that way then it automatically passes to the survivor and you don’t need a grant of probate.

However if the deceased person owned property solely or a distinct share of joint property (known as tenants in common), then in order for that property to pass to beneficiaries a grant of probate or letters of administration will be needed.

Occasionally if it is only a small amount, which varies from institution to institution, then a grant may not be needed. So some banks will release the contents of a small account, for example up to £5000, without a grant. If the deceased person did not have much it is worth checking with asset holders, such as banks, whether they will release funds without a grant of probate using the small estates procedure.
But for many estates a grant will be required. You need to look for a Will. Sometimes it is held by the deceased, sometimes they will have asked a solicitor or someone else, such as their bank, to hold it.

We no longer have the nineteenth century tradition of a Solicitor reading the Will to a gathering of relatives. If you are nominated as an executor in the Will then the solicitor should simply release it to you.

Wills will nominate executors who are the people who should get the grant of probate and administer the deceased person’s estate, ultimately distributing it to beneficiaries. Often executors and beneficiaries are the same and will often be the relatives of the deceased.

If you are named as an executor you can still use solicitors to do some or all of the work for you, such as getting the grant of probate, if you feel that you need some help.

If there is no Will the estate can still be administered. It just means that an application to the Probate Registry has to be made for letters of administration instead and the estate has to be distributed in accordance with some very strict rules on who is entitled to what. That can involve finding certain relatives who may not have had much contact with the family and careful record keeping. Again a solicitor can help you get all of that right.

This short guide cannot cover all of the things that you need to do when someone passes away because applying for the grant of probate can be complex and involve dealing with inheritance tax, for example. Inheritance tax is a complex subject and if an estate is likely to be taxable then you would be well advised to get some professional guidance on it. Then there is a lot to do within the administration of an estate such as gathering the assets together and correctly distributing them. Unfortunately for many people this is coming at a time when they are also wrestling with personal grief.

We hope that this guide has been useful and we understand how difficult it can be to deal with the financial consequences of a loved one passing away at the same time as handling the emotional effects. If you find yourself in that difficult situation either now or in the future please feel free to give us a call for a no obligation initial talk through it and we’ll tell you whether we can help. If we cannot or its better for you if we don’t, because it’s a small estate for example, we will give you some practical pointers as to what you can do.

You can contact our professional and approachable Wills and probate team on 0161 696 6238 or fill in our enquiry form.