If someone dies having left a will then they would have appointed one or more executors to deal with their affairs after their death. If you have agreed to do this for a friend or relative read on:
Register the death
Register the death with the Registrar of Births Marriages and Deaths within 5 days (8 days in Scotland) – this includes weekends and bank holidays.
You’ll get a ‘certificate for a burial’ to give to the funeral director, or an application for cremation which you need to complete and give to the crematorium. You must do one of these before the funeral can take place. Contact the Cemeteries and Crematorium Department of your local council to arrange a funeral yourself.
Arrange the funeral
The funeral can usually only take place after the death is registered. You can pay for a funeral director to arrange the funeral or do it yourself.
You should check if the person who died had made arrangements for their funeral – this could include prepaid funeral plans or life insurance. Funeral costs can include:
- funeral director fees
- things the funeral director pays for on your behalf (called ‘disbursements’ or ‘third-party costs’), for example crematorium or cemetery fees, or a newspaper announcement about the death
- local authority burial or cremation fees
Funeral directors may list all these costs in their quote. You can get quotes from several funeral directors to see what is available within your budget.
Tell us once
Tell Us Once is a service that lets you report a death to government organisations.
A registrar will explain the Tell Us Once service when you register the death. They will either complete the Tell Us Once service with you or give you a unique reference number so you can use the service yourself online or by phone.
You must use the service within 84 days of getting your unique reference number.
You’ll need the following details of the person who died:
- date of birth
- National Insurance number
- driving licence number
- vehicle registration number
- passport number
You’ll also need:
- details of any benefits or entitlements they were getting – for example State Pension
- details of any local council services they were getting – for example Blue Badge
- name, address, telephone number and the National Insurance number or date of birth of any surviving spouse or civil partner
- name and address of their next of kin – if there is no surviving spouse or civil partner or their spouse or civil partner is not able to deal with their affairs
- name, address and contact details of the executor or administrator
- details of any public sector or armed forces pension schemes they were getting or paying in to
You need permission from any surviving spouse or civil partner, the next of kin, executor, administrator or anyone who was claiming joint benefits or entitlements with the person who died, before you give their details. If you do not use Tell Us Once then you must let the relevant organisations know about the death yourself
Apply for a Grant of Probate
This is a legal document which confirms your authority (as the executor) to deal with the deceased’s assets including the right to access funds, settle debts and distribute the estate to the beneficiaries of the will.
A Grant of Probate is needed if:
- The deceased’s estate is worth more than £5,000,
- They owned a property with another person but with each owning an individual share This is known as being a ‘tenant in common’ or
- The deceased held investments such as stocks and shares or a life assurance policy which pays into their estate.
- For Grant of Probate, the forms which need to be completed depend on where the deceased lived and whether or not Inheritance Tax needs to be paid. Executors can obtain a Grant by accessing the relevant forms online, and making an application to the Probate Registry. However, this can be a complex process and the Executor may want to instruct a specialist or solicitor to make the application.
The time it takes to deal with the deceased’s estate will depend on a number of things such as how quickly information about the deceased’s assets and liabilities can be ascertained, whether inheritance tax is payable and the efficiency of the organisations you are dealing with. Banks may release funds to executors or the deceased’s spouse if the accounts are below their set limits.
When the grant is obtained the executor can then start gathering in the assets, settling any debts and dealing with any final tax returns if applicable before distributing the remainder of the estate to the beneficiaries in accordance with the will. In the words of some, job well done.
What should I do if the deceased didn’t leave a will?
If the deceased didn’t leave a will, administrators will need to be appointed to deal with the deceased’s affairs. These will usually be the people who are entitled to inherit the deceased’s estate. The death will still need to be registered with the Registrar of Births Marriages and Deaths and the Administrators may need to apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration from the Probate Registry. This is a legal document which confirms the Administrator’s authority to deal with the deceased’s assets, this includes the right to access funds, collect assets, settle debts and distribute the estate to the beneficiaries.
When applying for Grant of Letters of Administration, the forms which need to be completed depend on where the deceased lived and whether or not Inheritance Tax needs to be paid. Administrators can obtain a Grant by accessing the relevant forms online and making an application to the Probate Registry.This can be a complex process and the Administrators may wish to instruct a professional to make the application.
The time it takes to deal with the deceased’s estate will depend on a number of things such as how quickly you can obtain the information about the deceased’s assets and liabilities, whether inheritance tax is payable and the efficiency of the organisations you are dealing with. In most cases, banks and other organisations will want to see the Grant before releasing assets. However, if the estate is small then some organisations may release money to Administrators or the deceased’s spouse at their discretion.
Intestacy. What’s that all about ?
When someone dies without a will or if the will isn’t valid (for example it wasn’t witnessed or if they got married after making a will) they have died “intestate” and there are certain rules to follow. Spouses, civil partners and children will usually take priority as beneficiaries and jointly owned assets will automatically pass to the surviving co-owner. Below is a guide to what you can expect to happen in these situations.
- Where there is a surviving spouse and no children, the spouse is entitled to the entire residuary estate.
- Where there is a surviving spouse and children, the spouse is entitled to the personal chattels (movable property, but not money) and a statutory legacy currently £270,000. The residuary estate, if any, is then divided equally between the spouse (50%) and the children (50% divided between however many children there are).
- Where there is no surviving spouse, the following beneficiaries are entitled to the estate. If there is no-one within a class, the persons in the next class become entitled: Initially, the children of the deceased receive the estate. This includes legitimate, illegitimate or legitimated children, as well as children adopted by the deceased. Step-children or foster children are not entitled under intestacy.
- If there are no children, the parents of the deceased are entitled in equal shares when both are alive, or solely to the surviving parent.
- If no parents survive, siblings described as ‘of the whole blood of the deceased’, meaning siblings who share both parents.If a sibling has died before the intestate, leaving children of their own, these children will benefit in their place, sharing their late parent’s entitlement.
- If no whole blood siblings survive, siblings of ‘half-blood’, meaning with one parent in common with the deceased,or their children are entitled. The half-blood siblings may be related to the deceased through their mother or father.
- If there are no siblings of whole or half blood then the grandparents of the deceased receive equal shares of the estate.
- If there are no grandparents, then aunts or uncles of the whole blood, or their children will be entitled to an equal share.
- If there are no aunts or uncles of the whole blood , then aunts or uncles of the half blood, or their children will be entitled to an equal share.
- If no parents survive, siblings described as ‘of the whole blood of the deceased’, meaning siblings who share both parents, or their children are entitled. If a sibling has died before the intestate, leaving children of their own, these children will benefit in their place, sharing their late parent’s entitlement.If no whole blood siblings survive, siblings of ‘half-blood’, meaning with one parent in common with the deceased, or their children are entitled. The half-blood siblings may be related to the deceased through their mother or father.If there are no siblings of whole or half blood, the grandparentsof the deceased receive equal shares. If there are no grandparents, then aunts or uncles of the whole blood, or their children will be entitled to an equal share.If there are no aunts or uncles of the whole blood (or their children) then aunts or uncles of the half blood, or their children will be entitled to an equal share of the estate.
- If there are no aunts or uncles of the half blood or their children, then the Crown, Duchy of Lancashire or Duke of Cornwall, will inherit.
- It should be noted that an estate is held on trust for beneficiaries under the age of 18. When they reach 18 (or marry earlier) they become entitled to their share of an estate
Legal wording you may hear during probate
There are many decisions and arrangements to be made when a loved one dies and these will be especially difficult to deal with during this distressing time. You may hear some legal wording during probate, so here is an explanation of what these terms mean:
- Advance decision – Another name for a living will.
- Assets – Any item of value such as property cash shares, pensions and investments.
- Beneficiary – A person or organisation (like a charity) nominated to receive estate assets.
- Chattels – An old-fashioned word for belongings, such as cars furniture; china; books; pictures; jewellery and household contents.It doesn’t include money, investments, land or property (see assets, above).
- Codicil – A document created to amend a will.Appropriate for minor changes, for example a small sum of money or an item as a gift.It is not recommended for major changes such as a change of executors or beneficiaries.
- Declarant – Someone who signs a will, statement or declaration.
- Discretionary trust – A trust in which the legal owners (the trustees) have control over how to use the trust’s income and capital. For example, they can decide who, and how much and how often someone receives payments.
- Estate – Everything you own when you die. It includes your house, any other property or land you own, savings, premium bonds, stocks and shares, plus all your personal belongings, for example, cars, caravans, paintings or jewellery.
- Executor – Someone you name in your will as the person you want to deal with your estate when you die. They’ll be responsible for finding out what’s in your will and are in charge of administering your estate.
- Financial dependent – Someone who relies on you to provide for them financially, for example, a child, partner or a disabled person you care for.
- Free Estate – Items of value that you own and are free to dispose of under your will.
- Full estate administration – This is the process of gathering information to establish the full value of the deceased’s estate, making an application for the Grant of Representation and then distributing the estate after any debts, expenses and taxes have been paid.
- Grant of Letters of Administration – This will give the Administrators authority to deal with the deceased’s estate if they didn’t leave a will.
- Grant of Probate – This will confirm the Executor’s authority to deal with the deceased’s estate if they left a will.
- Inheritance Tax – is a tax on the estate (the property, money and possessions) of someone who’s died. There’s normally no Inheritance Tax to pay if either:
the value of your estate is below the £325,000 threshold or you leave everything above the threshold to your spouse, civil partner, a charity (or surprisingly) a community amateur sports club.
- Issue – children
- Joint tenants – The property is owned jointly as a whole, rather than each person owning an individual share. If either of the joint owners dies, then the property automatically passes to the other.
- Living will – A statement of what you would like to happen to you if you become seriously ill or incapacitated and which has been made while you have the mental capacity to make your wishes. Also called an advance decision.
- Longstop beneficiary – A ‘plan B’, meaning that if all the beneficiaries of your will die before you do, this is where the remainder of your estate goes.
- Mirror wills – Two separate but identical or very similar wills. They are not the same as mutual wills (see below).
- Mutual wills – Wills made by two people who both agree that they will not cancel or change their wills without the other person’s consent.
- Residuary estate – Everything left over after your debts, taxes, funeral expenses and administration costs have been paid and gifts from your will given away.
- Revoke – To cancel. When you sign a new will, any previous wills or codicils you made are automatically revoked.
- Severing a joint tenancy – Changing the way you own a property from a joint tenancy to a tenancy in common. For example, if you had a joint tenancy but wanted to own a specific share of a property so you could leave your share to someone when you die, the procedure is known as ‘severing the joint tenancy’.
- Substitute beneficiaries – In wills, a substitute beneficiary means the person who will inherit if your first choice of beneficiary does not. E.g. if any of your children die before you, their share passes on to their children.
- Substitute executor – A back-up appointed in the will, in case the nominated executor dies,becomes incapable or chooses not to act. If only one person is named as an executor, it is a good idea to also add a substitute.
- Tenants in common – The property is owned with another person who has an individual share. If either of the joint owners dies, their will should set out who is to have their share in the property.
- Testamentary guardian – A person you appoint in your will as guardian with parental AND legal responsibility for minor children.
- Trust – A legal arrangement where at least 2 people are appointed to look after assets and make sure that they go to the right people at the right time.
- Trustee – A person who is legally responsible for managing a trust.