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Probate…first things first!

When a loved one passes away, we often receive telephone calls from family members who simply do not know where to start. Often families feel that there must be a million and one tasks to be getting on with and they are not sure which to prioritise, and which can be left on the back burner for now.

Here are some general pointers on tasks that can be a good starting point when handling an Estate:-

  1. Register the Death

Once you have received the relevant paperwork from the hospital or coroner’s office, you can register your loved one’s death if you :

  • Are a relative of the deceased;
  • were there at the time of death;
  • are an administrator from the hospital (if the person died in hospital); or
  • are in charge of making funeral arrangements.

You will need to contact the Registry Office nearest to where the death occurred and make an appointment. The Registry Office should talk you through everything you will need to take with you to register the death and use the “Tell Us Once” service.

The Tell Us Once service notifies most government organisations of the death and more information on this service can be found here.

  1. Contact their/your solicitor and ascertain whether there is a Will

Often family and friends will know that a Will exists and might even know where it is and its content, but sometimes this is not the case. There are services available to search for a Will, but the best starting point would be the deceased’s solicitor or other professional adviser.

The solicitor will then request the Death Certificate and your ID to ascertain whether you have the relevant authority to discuss/see the Will. If we are contacted in this instance, we would then offer you an initial fixed fee meeting to discuss your responsibilities and next steps further (further details below).

  1. Organise the Funeral

The Executors named in a person’s Will are the individuals or organisation legally entitled to organise the Funeral. Therefore, once you have ascertained who the Executors (or Administrators where there is no Will) are, they can proceed with Funeral arrangements.

It is important to keep a note of all Funeral expenses as these are a valid deduction from the value of the Estate for Inheritance Tax purposes.

  1. Insure the Property

Where the deceased owned a property, it is extremely important to advise their house insurers so that the property continues to be insured, despite the change of occupancy. The Executors or Administrators are responsible for maintaining all Estate assets and so must arrange appropriate insurance and ensure that all conditions of the policy are met.

Where the deceased was a tenant of a property, the Executors or Administrators should contact the Landlord/Management Company and advise them of the death so that they can update their insurance accordingly.

  1. Secure Personal Possessions

Whilst the average individual might not have a huge number of personal possessions of considerable monetary value, their personal possessions, known as “chattels”, might have considerable sentimental value. It is therefore important to take note of the deceased’s possessions and ensure that they either stay securely in your possession, or securely in the deceased’s home, until the appropriate time to distribute them.

As solicitors we unfortunately see issues over personal possessions, such as photographs and mementos, causing bereaved families tremendous grief and upset when dividing their loved ones’ assets. We would therefore recommend taking an inventory, putting in place adequate insurance, and making it clear to the family that they are not to remove items from the home as these need to be valued and distributed appropriately.

  1. Advise the Bank or Building Society

When a bank or building society is advised of a customer’s death, they will instantly freeze all sole accounts and remove the deceased’s name from joint accounts*. This helps to limit the risk of the accounts being used without authority, and the risk of funds being paid into and out of the accounts which later need to be refunded to the relevant party.

Once an account is frozen, the funds within can usually still be used to pay Funeral expenses and Inheritance Tax. It is important to note, however, that usually these must be paid directly to the Funeral Director/HMRC and cannot be paid to a family member that is due to be reimbursed.

*Joint bank accounts will generally pass by survivorship to the surviving co-owner of the account. If this was not the intention of the deceased, then this must be raised with the acting solicitor who will take appropriate steps.

This is, of course, not an exhaustive list of tasks by any means but gives a general starting point if you have been recently bereaved.

As above, we offer an initial fixed fee meeting which allows for one hour with a qualified Probate Solicitor for an all-inclusive fee of £95. This is an excellent opportunity for general advice and to take you through the Probate process as relevant to your circumstances. There is no obligation to instruct us going forward from this meeting but, if you would like to do so, the consulting solicitor would explain our expected fees, time scales and how to instruct us.

Get in Touch

If you would like to organise a fixed fee meeting with one of our team then please contact Charlotte Fox, one of our Probate specialists, who would be glad to assist you. Charlotte can be contacted by email: [email protected] or telephone 0118 958 9711.

Further Reading:

Can my Will be challenged?

Probate and Properties – What to do

Probate and Properties – What is “Occupation Rent”?

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"barrettandco" and "Barrett & Co" are trading names of Barrett & Co Solicitors LLP, a Limited Liability Partnership incorporated in England and Wales under registration number OC356263, with registered office at Advantage House, 87 Castle Street, Reading, Berkshire, RG1 7SN. Barrett & Co Solicitors LLP is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA Number 549694).

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