What to Do When a Relative Dies

20 January 2017

By Probate Solicitor Rebecca Tribble

This will be a very difficult time for you, and there will be lots you are thinking about and dealing with. Every person and every situation is different, but in most cases the following requirements will apply when a loved one has died in England or Wales.

Register the Death

If the death was expected or the cause of death was clear, the doctor will issue you with a Medical Certificate. This can then be used to register the death. The death should be registered within five days with the Registrar in the area local to where the death took place. However, registering a death can be deferred for another nine days if the Registrar is informed that a Medical Certificate has been issued.

If the death was unexpected or sudden, the doctor will report the death to the Coroner. The Coroner will then decide whether it is possible to issue a Cause of Death Certificate to you to register with the Registrar.

Most Registrars offer a Tell Us Once service that lets you report a death to most government organisations in one go. If you can provide the deceased’s National Insurance number, passport, driving license, as well as details of any state benefits they were receiving, the Registrar will notify a number of Government agencies on your behalf. This will include HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), the Department for Work and Pensions, the Passport Office and the DVLA.

Who Can Register a Death?

A relative, someone present at the death, a hospital administrator or the person arranging the funeral may register the death.

Arrange the Funeral

Your relative may have told you their funeral wishes during their lifetime. Otherwise, it may be useful to check the contents of your loved one’s Will, as this may sometimes include a statement or Letter of Wishes as to whether the person wished to be buried or cremated, or any other particular last requests.

Co-op Funeralcare will be happy to meet with you to talk through your options and help you to make the funeral arrangements for your loved one.

In terms of payment for the funeral, it may be that there is a pre-payment plan which your relative purchased before they passed away. In many cases it is possible to arrange payment from the person’s bank account directly to the funeral director.

If you instruct Co-op Legal Services to deal with the Probate and Estate administration for you and the funeral has been arranged with Co-op Funeralcare, we can arrange payment of the funeral on your behalf until the Estate is in funds and we can be reimbursed from it. This can be particularly helpful where your relative did not have many cash assets and the family do not have the money to pay for the funeral up front.

Find the Will

It is important to establish whether your relative left a Will. It may be that you will find a copy of a Will, or an original homemade Will among their paperwork. If you believe they made a Will you should make enquiries with local Solicitors to see whether they are holding any documents for your relative. Generally, a Solicitor will only be able to release the original Will to the Executors named in the Will.

If there is a Will, this should name the Executors of the Estate. The Executors are the people with the legal responsibility to administer the Estate. The Will should also describe who is to benefit from the Estate. The Executors and beneficiaries of the Estate will not necessarily be the same people.

If you are confident that there is no Will, your relative is said to have died Intestate. In this situation, the law states who is entitled to deal with and benefit from the Estate. This person is said to be the Administrator of the Estate, and it will depend on the family circumstances as to who is entitled to act as Administrator.

There is a list of categories of people who stand first in line to deal with (and benefit from the Estate). This is generally a list of the closest relatives. Often this will be the spouse or children of the person who passed away. However, the details can be quite complex depending on the situation and you should speak to an expert to check your position. Our friendly Probate Advisory service is free of charge and one of our advisors can explain who can act as the Administrator of the Estate.

Identifying the Estate

Once you are confident that you are the person with authority to act in the Estate, either as an Executor (where there is a Will) or an Administrator (where there is not), you will need to ascertain the extent of the person’s assets. It may be that they will have paperwork indicating who they banked with and any other assets they held. Checking old bank statements may also give an indication as to any pensions or other incoming payments they received. You should keep a list of the companies and account numbers involved.

You will also need to check whether your relative had any liabilities. Again, any paperwork they were holding may give an indication of this.

The deceased may have owned a house. It might be that you will locate deeds among the paperwork or held with a Solicitor. Many properties bought in the last 25 years will be registered at the Land Registry. This means that there may no longer be deeds to the property.

It is important to check that you protect the assets of the Estate. This can include making sure that any property in the Estate is properly insured.

Once you have a list of the assets and liabilities, you will have an idea as to the likely value of the Estate. At this stage you can decide whether it is necessary to obtain a Grant of Representation.

Generally, it is not necessary to apply for a Grant of Representation if the whole Estate is worth less than £5,000, or if all of the assets were held jointly with someone else (such as a spouse), in which case it will pass automatically to them.

If the Estate is worth more than £5,000, includes stocks and shares or a solely owned property, it is very likely that you will need to obtain a Grant of Representation. This will enable you to close down bank accounts and sell or transfer shares or property.

You may feel confident to obtain the Grant of Representation yourself without the assistance of a Solicitor. At Co-op Legal Services we will be happy to provide you with a Fixed Fee Probate quote for dealing with all aspects of the Estate administration process for you.

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