What to do when someone dies: who to inform and how to get through probate

Clive Barwell, head of later life advice at Wren Sterling, has written an article which details who to inform and how to get through probate when there's been a bereavement in your family.

Death – it’s not an easy topic to talk about. But when someone passes away certain parties need to know, the value of their estate (money, property, debt and possessions) must be calculated, and distributed to their beneficiaries.

This article has been written to shed light on the amount of work involved if you’ve been asked to be an executor – and for those thinking ahead, I hope that it will help you consider who you want to undertake these tasks on your behalf.

We’ll be looking at the two main hurdles for an executor to overcome; registering the death and obtaining probate.

  1. Register the death
    The Undertaker can’t arrange a funeral until a burial or cremation certificate is issued by the registrar. All financial institutions the deceased had dealings with will need to see an original death certificate, so remember to request plenty of these (and take the relevant fee with you). Scans or photocopies are not acceptable.

  2. Arrange the funeral 
    Check to see if there was a prepaid funeral plan, as this may well dictate which undertaker is used. Also check the will to see if there are any expressions of wishes as far as burial or cremation are concerned. If it is a burial, you also need to be on the lookout for a deed to a plot.

  3. Contact ‘Tell us once’
    This is a useful service offered by the registrar, which advises all relevant Government departments, both national and local, of the death. If possible, find the driving licence, passport and any blue badge the deceased had before going to register the death, as these need to be handed to the registrar. You’ll also need their National Insurance number.

  4. Secure the home and protect valuables
    Empty properties are a magnet for burglars and the insurance cover may not be as comprehensive as it was prior to death. If it is winter, it is also important to either drain the water system or ensure heating is left on to protect against burst pipes.

  5. Contact insurance companies
    It is important to advise the insurers of the house, contents and cars of the death and ensure the interest of the personal representatives (executors or administrators) are noted and any limitations or exclusions understood.

  6. Locate the will
    There may be a copy of the will in the house. The original could be in storage elsewhere. You will need to find the original to apply for probate.

  7. Apply for probate
    Before the executor named in the will can do this, they need a clear picture of the assets and liabilities of the estate, and will then need to apply for probate. The process has recently been simplified for those whose estate is going to be straightforward, particularly if there is no inheritance tax to pay, both the HMRC inheritance tax return and the probate application itself can be completed online.

  8. Value the estate
    You need to advise all financial institutions of the death and ascertain the value of accounts as at the date of death. Non-financial assets such as property, jewellery and vehicles need to be valued professionally. Personal effects and cars can be sold prior to obtaining probate in which case, the sale proceeds can be substituted for any valuation. You also need to ascertain any debts, including household accounts outstanding at the date of death.

  9. Collect assets, discharge debts and pay the beneficiaries
    Once probate has been granted and the tax affairs of the deceased have been sorted, the process of settling an estate involves gathering assets, paying debts and then distributing everything left in accordance with the will.

Next steps

If you need guidance – in making plans for your estate, or completing your duties as an executor – you may benefit from having a specialist on your side to help guide you through the process. Please contact your nearest branch to make an appointment with a Wren Sterling adviser.

Useful information
Order a copy of a birth, death or marriage certificate
Wills, probate and inheritance

The Financial Conduct Authority does not regulate taxation and trust advice, will writing and legal services.

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