No one wants to think about death. Not their own death, nor especially that of a beloved family member or friend. We help our clients to prepare themselves both practically and mentally, and in some cases emotionally, for that inevitable moment. It can be a huge relief for some to know that their affairs are in order. For others, it is very trying and difficult making all the necessary decisions.
When a loved one sadly passes, there is a huge amount of work to be done. This, despite the fact that you are often barely functioning because of their loss. One of our team recently lost her mother and she is keen to share her practical thoughts and experiences with our readers. She found there is little straight-forward guidance available generally and of course most of us are administering an estate for the first time.
Make an Appointment with the local Registry Office
The initial hurdle to overcome is making an appointment to register the death at the deceased’s local Registry Office. (I am sorry – I’m going to refer to the person who has died as the ‘deceased’ for the purpose of clarity but I do recognise that no term is ideal.) You will need a ‘Medical Certificate of Cause of Death’ from the doctor in order to be able to do this. You will also be asked for various pieces of information and copies of documents but you will be advised exactly what is required.
‘Tell Us Once’ service
Do use their ‘Tell Us Once’ service as this undoubtedly saves you time and, more importantly, heartache. On your behalf, the Registry will contact HMRC (tax office), Passport Office, DWP (benefits), DVLA (driving licence) and the local council (possibly care fees). Again, various documents will be requested from you; do try to find them all. It may be that your loved one was due a tax rebate.
Arrange the Funeral and/or Memorial Service
The only other urgent task is to arrange the funeral. You may already know the deceased’s wishes or they may be detailed in their Will. (I hope they wrote one.) The deceased may hold a pre-paid funeral plan which may also detail their wishes but will certainly cover the basic costs. Opt for the earliest date you can for the funeral; you will not be able to move on until it has taken place. You may wish to think about placing an announcement in a local and/or national newspaper regarding the death and the date of the funeral. Once all this is done, you might want to take a breather as there is still much to be done, even if the estate is relatively simple.
Once you can face it, you need to establish where the deceased held their ‘sole’ funds. (Joint funds will automatically pass to the other named account holder(s) according to the Laws of Survivorship.) This could include banks, building societies, Premium Bonds, financial advisors (ISAs/Bonds) etc. Register the death with each organisation and request a final valuation statement to be sent to you. (Do ask for a number of copies of the death certificate when you register the death. Whilst all organisations will return original copies to you, these certificates are like gold dust.) Do the same with all pension companies, including the DWP, if you didn’t use the ‘Tell Us Once’ service.
Your heart will be broken many times over the next few weeks as these organisations blandly respond to ‘The Late ________’ or the ‘Pers Reps (personal representatives) of _________’. It is shockingly impersonal. Do however retain all the documents received for your records.
You may need to go through Probate, you may not. Probate is the Latin word meaning ‘to prove’ so probate is the process of ‘proving’ the deceased’s death, who their personal representatives are, whether or not there is a Will, the assets etc. Each financial institution has its own rules and investment levels at which Probate needs to be done. Check with every financial institution where the deceased held ‘sole’ funds. Unfortunately, even if only one institution requires Probate, you will have to go through the process. Probate will also be required if the deceased held their property as Tenants in Common with a spouse or partner or individually. (You can check this via the Land Registry.)
Do go to the government website (https://www.gov.uk) and search under ‘Probate’. This site contains lots of really useful information, probably too much! From here, you can download all the necessary forms:
- PA1 – complete by hand to apply for probate
- PA2 – explains ‘How to obtain probate without using a solicitor’
- PA3 – details probate fees (£215 at the time of writing)
- PA4 – gives addresses of local Probate offices.
Tax forms for Inheritance Tax
You will also need to complete a tax form for inheritance tax purposes, even if there is nothing to pay. Complete form IHT205 if no tax is owing; complete IHT400 if inheritance tax is owing. If you struggle with either form, call one of the contact numbers or seek professional advice.
‘Swear an Oath’ at the Probate Office
Having sent off the necessary documents, you will need to arrange an appointment to ‘Swear an Oath’. Only one of the Executors needs to do this if you prefer.
If there are any Trusts in the Will then these must be implemented within two years of the death. They cannot simply be ignored and need to be set up even if they are immediately closed again. A solicitor will be able to help you with this aspect of the estate administration but a fee will be payable for this service.
Distribute the Estate
Once you have all the final fund valuations, draw up an income and expenditure statement of the estate i.e. all the in and out payments. This should include any debts owed by the deceased. All debts must be settled prior to making any payments to beneficiaries. Circulate the income and expenditure statement as appropriate and distribute the estate.
Contact the Office of the Public Guardian
Lastly, (as if you haven’t already tackled enough bureaucracy), you should cancel any Enduring or Lasting Powers of Attorney held by the deceased. These are ‘lifetime’ documents and they cease to be of use once the Donor (the person who drew them up) has died. Send the original documents (there may be one for Finance and a separate one for Health) along with a copy of the death certificate and a covering letter to the Office of the Public Guardian to get them cancelled. They should not merely be destroyed.
Administering an estate is not pleasant but there is a certain satisfaction, and of course, relief, in seeing your loved one’s final wishes carried out as they wanted them to be. Alternatively, if it is a complicated Estate or you are lacking time, you could consult with an Estate Administration service.