What to do when someone dies

Posted by Kate Allred on
Most people will have heard of "probate" and know a little about inheritance tax but will not necessarily have been involved with the administration of an estate. In the event of someone's death, what are the initial steps you should take? If you are in this situation, or you wish to help your family prepare for your death, the below guide should help. 

What to do first

Initially, a medical certificate is provided by the hospital in order to register the death. You need to make an appointment with the Registrar for deaths within 5 days of the death in most cases. The Registrar of deaths will provide you with details of the "Tell Us Once" service. This is a state service that will help you to deal with the deceased's tax and benefits.

The Registrar will provide a burial/cremation form to be provided to the undertaker, and a Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) form to be sent to the DWP along with the deceased's pension book.

Duties of the personal representative

The personal representatives have legal responsibilities for administering an estate. They can be either executors (where there is a Will) or administrators (where there is no Will and the deceased died intestate). We are happy to advise further on the duties, such as making reasonable enquiries to ascertain the extent of the assets and liabilities.

If there is a Will, you will need to locate the original document signed by the deceased, which is usually lodged with the deceased's solicitor. It would be wise to examine it soon after the death in order to see whether the deceased left any specific funeral wishes and to check who has been appointed as executor.

If there is no Will, administrators will be appointed by the Probate Registry.

We suggest that you contact a lawyer at this stage so that we can assist you with the administration of the estate.

You will need to go through the deceased's personal papers and any electronic records in order to ascertain the value of the deceased's "estate".

Our digital lives have rapidly expanded in the last few years and now the administrators of an estate will have to consider not only online photograph journals, but also modern diaries, social networking sites, bank statements and even tax affairs. Read more in our blog here.

The deceased may have held assets abroad and legal formalities in foreign countries will need to be considered, and potentially foreign tax paid.

Funeral expenses

You will need to check the deceased's papers in order to ascertain whether they held a pre-paid funeral plan. If there is one, it may not cover all expenses. Typically, items such as flowers will not have been included in the plan. Any invoice issued by a funeral director can normally be paid direct from the deceased's bank accounts.

Dealing with property

There will be practicalities to deal with if the deceased leaves a property unoccupied, which we can assist with.

  • The insurance policy for that property will need to be carefully considered and suitable property insurance arranged if the current insurer will not continue to provide cover.
  • If the property was rented, the landlord should be notified in accordance with the terms of the lease.
  • Valuables should be removed and can be held securely by solicitors or by the bank. Any vehicles should be securely stored, preferably off the highway.
  • Any items that were rented or loaned should be identified, so that they can be returned.
  • It should be ascertained where any keys are located and they should be stored securely. If necessary, locks can be changed to ensure there are no stray keys in the wrong hands.
  • Post should be redirected and deliveries such as milk and newspapers should be cancelled.
  • Gas and electricity readings should be taken.

Inheritance tax

Once the assets and liabilities of the estate have been valued, an inheritance tax return must be filed which we can assist with.

Other taxes

If the deceased was an income tax payer, HMRC will have been notified through the "Tell Us Once" service, and you may need to file income tax returns. We can assist and advise on what will be required for the deceased's specific circumstances, but it will be helpful if you can locate the national insurance number and, if relevant the most recent tax return filed for the deceased.

Applying for probate / letters of administration

Once inheritance tax has been paid, you can obtain a grant of probate. This is a legal document issued by the Probate Registry giving executors the right to collect assets of the deceased. If the deceased did not leave a Will, the grant will be issued to administrators and will be called a "grant of letters of administration". There are limited exceptions when it is not necessary to obtain a grant and we can advise upon this.

Collecting assets and distributing the estate

Once the grant has been issued by the Probate Registry, we can then administer the estate in accordance with the terms of the Will or the intestacy rules.

Post death planning

It is possible to redirect inheritances to other beneficiaries or trusts within 2 years of a death in order to tax plan for the beneficiaries or in order to maximise tax relief for the estate. Specialist advice should be sought if so, and please do contact us to discuss this.

For further information about what to do when someone dies, please contact the Blake Morgan Succession and Tax team. 

About the Author

Photograph of Kate Allred

Kate is a senior private client lawyer, who specialises in Wills, inheritance tax planning, trusts, and the administration of complex estates.

Kate Allred
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