When someone close to you dies, it can be difficult working out what to do and in what order; there are a number of tasks to be considered which can make an already difficult time even more stressful, especially for those who have never had to deal with a loved one’s estate before.
We appreciate there is a lot to take on board, so to answer the question of what to do when someone dies, we have broken down the process into eight stages:
The first thing to do when someone dies is to obtain a medical certificate of cause of death – this is required to register the death. If the Coroner is involved, the process will be slightly different.
If the person died in hospital, the staff will arrange for a Doctor to issue a medical certificate that will specify the time, date, and cause of death. If a Doctor is not on duty at the time of death, you may be given an appointment to collect the medical certificate at a later date. If you have questions regarding the cause of death stated on the medical certificate, it is appropriate to ask the medical staff. At the same time as collecting the medical certificate, the deceased’s belongings can also usually be collected. The person who has died is then taken to the hospital mortuary, before being transferred to the Funeral Directors.
If the death occurred at home or in a care or nursing home, a GP will usually issue the medical certificate. You should contact your local Doctor if the death occurred under natural circumstances.
In the case of sudden or unexpected deaths, the first thing to do when someone dies at home is to contact emergency services.
Before funeral arrangements can be made, the death needs to be registered. Normally, relatives of the deceased are required to register the death. However, the registrar will allow non-relatives to do so if the next of kin are unavailable. In these scenarios, someone who was present at the death may register it – this may be a hospital representative, an occupant of the house where the death occurred, or the person arranging the funeral.
• Date and place of death
• Home address
• Full name – including maiden name, any former married names, and any other names by which the deceased was known
• Date and place of birth – the town or county is sufficient if the exact address is not known (or the country of origin if born outside the UK)
• Their current or, if retired, former occupation
• Details of their spouse or civil partner and whether they died before them
• Whether they had any government pension or allowance
A death certificate
This proves that the death has been registered. It is recommended that you buy several copies, perhaps one for each bank or financial institution where the person held accounts, and each pension or insurance policy. Extra certificates are sometimes more expensive to purchase at a later stage and photocopies are not usually accepted by institutions.
A certificate of registration of death
This is often called the ‘white form’. This is given if the deceased was entitled to a state pension or benefits. If required, the details must be completed and sent to the address on the reverse of the form.
The next thing that needs to be done is to find out if the deceased left a valid Will. There may be specific funeral requests contained in this document. If you cannot find a Will, we advise conducting a Will search by approaching Will Writers and Solicitors local to the area where the deceased lived and searching The National Will Register. This is particularly important when it comes to dealing with the deceased’s affairs later on, as there are different legal requirements for administering the estate if no valid Will was written.
What documents do you need after death? At this stage, you should already have the birth, marriage, and death certificates. However, other important paperwork such as pension details, insurance policies, and bank and building society accounts will be helpful later on, particularly if you need to apply for probate (or confirmation in Scotland). Once these documents have been located, it is advisable to keep them all together in a safe place for ease of access.
The deceased may have left a written record, told family and friends about their funeral wishes, or have a pre-paid funeral plan in place. It is advisable to check whether any of these arrangements have been made prior to contacting a Funeral Director independently. If no specific requests were made during the person’s life, a range of decisions regarding the funeral will need to be made by the family. These decisions will include:
Most families choose to hand arrangements over to a professional Funeral Director, who will be able to offer advice and guidance. Don’t be afraid to shop around and ask for a detailed breakdown of costs, as funeral fees can vary considerably. Family and friends may also be able to offer recommendations. When looking for a Funeral Director, it is a good idea to ensure they are members of a trade association. Most Funeral Directors will be a member of either the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) or the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF).
Probate, also known as a Grant of Probate, is a legal document that the Executors of a Will may need to obtain when administering the estate of someone who has died. In scenarios where the deceased passed away without a Will, the document is referred to as a Grant of Letters of Administration, and the person responsible for sourcing this legal document is referred to as an Administrator. The umbrella term for both a Grant of Probate and a Grant of Letters of Administration is Grant of Representation; both terms refer to the same process.
Obtaining probate provides the Executor with the legal authority to carry out estate administration – the process of dealing with the deceased’s assets, legal affairs, debts, and more. Therefore, probate is one step of the wider estate administration process.
How do you avoid probate? The reality is that the requirement for probate is not determined by the estate value or whether a Will was left behind or not; financial institutions set their own probate thresholds, and this varies between different providers. For this reason, probate is unavoidable if the deceased owned assets that exceed these individual thresholds.
“How can I withdraw money from a deceased person's bank account?” is a commonly asked question. The deceased’s bank account can be accessed by the Executor or Administrator if it does not exceed the institution’s probate threshold. For example, Bank A may require a Grant for £10,000 in a current account if the value exceeds their probate threshold of £5,000. However, Bank B may not require a Grant for £10,000 worth of monies if they have a probate threshold of £15,000.
Related content:• What is probate?
Estate administration is the process of dealing with a person’s legal and tax affairs after they have died; all estates need to be administered to some extent. This normally means dealing with all their assets (such as property and personal possessions) and liabilities (such as outstanding debts) before transferring whatever is left to the beneficiaries.
If you are named as an Executor in a Will, or Administrator if there is no Will, you may need to think about:
Closing bank accounts and paying debts
Dealing with shares and investments
Selling property and assets
Dealing with Inheritance Tax and Income Tax forms
Dealing with specialist legal work
Some people decide to administer the estate by themselves, but this can take a significant amount of time and effort, especially if you have never had to go through the process before. If you decide to undertake the work yourself, you should also be aware that you are personally liable for any mistakes made during the process, such as when completing tax returns and legal paperwork. For these reasons, many people prefer to appoint a specialist legal firm to do the work on their behalf.
At Kings Court Trust, we can provide a quote for our full estate administration service and help you understand your options. Learn more about our full estate administration service.