What to do when someone dies

What actions are required?

Following a death it is necessary for someone to undertake various steps in order to put the deceased’s affairs in order. These include:

  • Registering the death and arranging the funeral
  • Ascertaining what assets the deceased owned and their value
  • Paying off debts and funeral expenses
  • Collecting in their assets
  • Liaising with tax authorities to check all liabilities have been paid
  • Distributing the balance of the estate according to any Will they left or, if there is no Will, according to rules prescribed by the law.

All of this action is referred to as ‘probate’. The purpose of this leaflet is to outline the actions required to deal with a person’s affairs after they have died.

Preliminary Steps

After a death, the following steps should be taken as promptly as possible.

Registration of the Death and Appointment of Undertakers

The death can be registered as soon as the Medical Certificate is available. It is usual to book an appointment with the Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths covering the area in which the death occurred. This task is usually undertaken by family or friends but we can help with this if required. The Death Certificate that will be provided following the registration will be used in the initial steps of probate. It is usually sensible to obtain several copies of the certificate.

Undertakers are usually appointed at this time, but you should check whether the deceased had purchased a “pre-paid funeral”. Details of this and/or the deceased’s funeral wishes are often found with the deceased’s Will, if there is one.

Is there a Will?

It is important to ascertain whether there is a Will and if so, that it is valid and that it is the latest Will. If there is a valid Will, the ‘Executors’ appointed in it are the people who have the authority to act and deal with probate. Wills are commonly held with personal papers at home or by the deceased’s solicitor or bank.

If there is no Will, the Estate will be distributed in accordance with the laws of inheritance known as the “Intestacy Rules”. The most immediate relatives can apply to the Probate Court for legal authority to deal with the deceased’s property and become the deceased’s ‘Personal Representatives’. If this applies to you, please let us know and we can explain in more detail how the Estate will be distributed.

The Deceased’s Property

Immediate steps should be taken to secure the deceased’s property. For example, you should collect together all keys for the deceased’s home and valuable assets and documents should be removed to a place of safekeeping if they would otherwise remain in an empty house.

You should also inform the insurance company if the house will now be empty or if the insurance was in the deceased’s name as not informing them could invalidate the policy.

It is likely that the house and contents will need to be valued for tax purposes and so you must not allow items to be disposed of until the Inheritance Tax position has been checked.

Preparing to obtain a Grant of Representation

A Grant of Representation is the legal document which provides the Executors or Personal Representatives with authority to deal with the deceased’s affairs and assets. Where the deceased left a Will, the Grant of Representation is known as the “Grant of Probate”. If there is no Will it is known as a “Grant of Letters of Administration”.

A Grant will generally be required unless the deceased’s property consisted only of:

  • Joint assets which pass automatically to the joint owner. We shall need to check the terms upon which joint property was held, in case it passes under the terms of the Will.
  • Property which can be dealt with solely by the production of the Death Certificate (generally chattels and small cash sums in bank and building society accounts).
  • Property which does not pass through the Executors’ or Personal Representatives’ hands such as life policies written in trust.

If a Grant is required we will need to make an application to the Probate Registry. To do this, the Executors
or Personal Representatives have to swear an Oath confirming the personal details of the deceased, the
basis of their legal entitlement to the Grant and the size of the estate.

Before we can make the application we will need to collect details of the deceased’s assets and debts at
the date of death as well as details of any gifts the deceased had made within the 7 years before their
death. Accordingly, we usually ask the Executors or Personal Representatives to bring to the initial meeting
with ourselves, as many of the deceased’s personal papers, statements, bills and such like as are to hand.
We will then collate this information with details of any gifts they had made and advise whether the Inland
Revenue will require a detailed inventory of the Estate, or just an accurate summary of the assets and
liabilities.

The answer to this may depend upon whether the deceased had been married or in a Civil Partnership and
we may ask you to bring in the deceased’s marriage/Civil Partnership certificate and, if the spouse or Civil
Partner has already died, details of their Estate and how it was distributed.

If a full inventory is required, exact date of death figures will be needed which we will obtain by writing to
the various institutions holding the deceased’s assets, producing the Death Certificate as evidence of
death. At the same time, we would make enquiries with the banks to establish whether the deceased held
any documents in their safety deposit boxes.

It is imperative that full and exhaustive enquiries are made to identify all of the deceased’s assets and any
gifts made. Failure to do so can lead to the Executor or Personal Representative being personally liable to
the Inland Revenue for a financial penalty and could lead to criminal prosecution.

Obtaining the Grant of Representation

Once we have all the details we will prepare an Inland Revenue Account. This details the deceased’s assets
and liabilities as at the date of death. It will also show whether any Inheritance Tax is payable.

Usually part (if not all) of the Inheritance Tax that is due must be paid before the Grant will be issued.

However, it is only once the Grant is to hand that the assets can be collected in from the institutions. Most
banks and building societies are now prepared to release funds directly to the Inland Revenue to cover an
Inheritance Tax liability. If the deceased held shares in a Stockbroker’s nominee account, it is usually possible
to arrange the sales of shares before the Grant is issued, so that the proceeds can be used to fund the
Inheritance Tax liability.

However, if this is not possible in your situation, it may be necessary to obtain some bridging finance. We are
happy to negotiate with banks in this regard on behalf of the Executors or Personal Representatives. Once the
Inheritance Tax has been paid or the Inland Revenue has confirmed that no tax is due, the Oath can be sworn
and the Grant of Representation can be applied for.

After the Grant

Once a Grant of Representation has been received, the Executors or Personal Representatives will have the legal authority to collect in the assets of the deceased by, for example, closing bank accounts, encashing policies, selling shares and arranging for the deceased’s house and contents to be sold.

Once assets have been gathered, it will be necessary to settle all liabilities and assess whether any claims are likely to be brought against the Estate.

A tax return/tax claim form will have to be completed on behalf of the deceased for the period to the date of death.

The Executors’/Personal Representatives’ income tax and capital gains tax liabilities for the period of the administration of the Estate must also be settled.

Once all creditors have been paid, the balance of the assets can be distributed in accordance with the terms of the Will or the Intestacy Rules.

Deeds of Variation

If substantial assets pass under the Will, or the Intestacy Rules, or by survivorship, to somebody who does not need them, it is possible (under the current Law) to redirect those assets under the terms of a “Deed of Variation”. If this is completed within two years of the date of the deceased’s death, the redirected assets would be treated for future Inheritance Tax purposes as if they never passed to the original beneficiary.

A Deed of Variation could also be used by agreement of the original beneficiaries to reduce or eliminate a tax bill on the deceased’s own estate.

We would be pleased to advise you about this in appropriate cases.

Conclusion

We are happy to provide Executors and Personal Representatives with as much assistance as they require administering the estate correctly. Our level of involvement will be decided upon by the Executors or Personal Representatives and will most likely depend on the complexity and size of the estate, the complexity of the Will or intestacy provisions and the capacity of the Executors or Personal Representatives to deal with matters themselves.