How to Read a Will When Someone Dies

29 July 2019

If you’ve been appointed as an Executor then you need to understand what the role of Executor entails and what needs to be done next. The following information applies in England and Wales.

See How to Be an Executor of a Will and How to Appoint Executors.

With our Fixed Fee Probate Service we take full responsibility for obtaining Grant of Probate and dealing with the Legal, Tax (excl VAT), Property and Estate Administration affairs.

Where Do I Find the Will?

You need to find the will as soon as possible after the death. If you don't already know where it is you should check among the deceased's personal papers at their home or office. There's also a possibility that a professional could be storing the will, so check with:

Solicitors, banks and will storage companies will need proof of the death and proof of your identity before they'll hand over the will. It's likely that you'll be asked for a copy of the death certificate and ID showing that you are the named Executor.

As well as setting out who should inherit what, a will can also include the deceased's funeral wishes. So it's important that it's read sooner rather than later.

Is it the 'Last' Will and Testament?

Once you have the will, you'll need to determine firstly that the will is legally valid, and secondly that it is the last will and testament that was made by the deceased. Check that the will has not been superseded by a later will, and check that any codicils (updates or amendments to the will) are also valid.

At this stage, if you are the named executor of the will and you have any doubts about the authenticity of the will, talk to a solicitor, lawyer or legal expert straight away. They can help you determine if the will is legally valid.

Once the validity of the will has been established, the probate process can begin and the beneficiaries can be notified of what they will receive (i.e. the gold watch).

Letting People Know

Once the validity of the will has been established, it's down to the executor to deal with the deceased's estate (everything they owned). This must be done in accordance with the terms of the will. The Executor should contact each beneficiary to inform them of their entitlement under the will.

There may be other people who need to be informed of the content of the will too. One of these may be the deceased's accountant, especially if there are specific directions about business assets or investments that could require specialist knowledge.

Is a Grant of Probate Needed?

In order to carry out the estate administration, the Executor may need to obtain a legal document called a grant of probate. This document grants the named executor with legal authority to close the deceased's bank account, sell their home and so on.

A grant of probate isn't always needed, because some assets and small amounts of money can be dealt with without it. Find out if a grant of probate is needed.

Other Responsibilities of the Executor

The will should clearly state how the estate should be divided between the beneficiaries. However, there are other considerations to take into account, and the executor should go through the following steps:

  1. Review all financial documents together with the will and ensure the estate isn't insolvent (bankrupt)
  2. Send a copy of the death certificate to the deceased's bank or building society, to freeze the accounts
  3. Value the estate, calculate how much inheritance tax is due (if any) and pay this to HM Revenue & Customs
  4. Complete and submit all probate forms required by the Probate Registry and HM Revenue & Customs
  5. Open an executor's account for money coming into and out of the Estate during the Probate process
  6. Collect in the estate's assets, including any money owed to the deceased
  7. Finalise the deceased's income tax affairs, and pay or reclaim any income tax due
  8. Settle any outstanding debts, including credit card bills, utilities, and professional fees
  9. Prepare detailed accounts showing all payments into and out of the estate, and the amount remaining for distribution to the beneficiaries

As you can see, there's much, much more to 'reading a will' than sitting in a solicitor's office listening to it being recited. Present-day will reading is a long and complex process.

With our Probate Complete Service we take full responsibility for getting Grant of Probate and dealing with the Legal, Tax (excluding VAT), Property and Estate Administration affairs.

What if there isn't enough money?

If there are not enough assets in the estate to cover outstanding tax, expenses, bills or debts, you should immediately get advice from an insolvency practitioner.

What if There is no will?

When someone dies in England or Wales without a valid will, this is known as dying Intestate. Put simply, this means the law will determine who should receive everything, from their property and bank accounts to their pets. If you haven’t made a Will yet you are not alone, around 60% of adults in the UK haven’t. For advice and guidance on making a Will, contact us or Start your Will online.

We can pay all the costs of a Co-op Funeralcare funeral when you use our Probate Complete Service, and the Estate has sufficient financial assets which can be sold in due course.

If you have any questions please contact us and we’ll be happy to help you.

Co-op Legal Services is the largest provider of Probate and Estate Administration services in England and Wales, trusted to deal with over £1.3 billion in Estates annually. We have been named National Will Writer of the Year 2018.

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