What to do after a death: the next steps

It is a stressful time when someone passes away and grief is not the only strain relatives face as they struggle to obtain a medical certificate detailing the cause of death, as well as registering the death.

They are then expected to plan the funeral and see it through, before a final decision on the deceased's possessions, properties and investments is made.

So the question at that point is whether or not a legal professional is required to do probate, which is a term used to describe the management of the deceased person's affairs.

Find out more on whether you need professional help in our article Can I do probate myself?

Probate is typically conducted by a close relative where a Will is already in place, with the responsible person dubbed the administrator or executor.

Depending on the details of the Will, this could be one or more persons.

The executor is required to apply for a grant of probate from the probate registry.

This is a legal document that simply confirms the executor as the authorised person to deal with the deceased's assets, which might include property, money and savings.

It is then down to the executor to use the power to access funds, sort out finances and collect or distribute assets to beneficiaries named in the will.

There are times when a grant of probate is not required, such as in cases where the deceased person has less than £5,000 or they jointly owned all of their possessions so that these assets automatically pass to the surviving joint owner.

In an effort to determine whether or not a grant of probate is required, the executor must write to each institution informing them of the death and enclose a photocopy of the death certificate and where there is one, the Will.

It is worth noting at this point that the grant of probate will not be issued until some or all of any inheritance tax due on the deceased's estate is paid out.

Instances where a grant is almost always necessary include situations where the deceased person owned stocks or shares, property or land held in their name or as "tenants in common", and certain insurance policies.

Usually, financial institutions will want to see the grant before transferring the control of assets. However, some organisations might decide to release the money in cases where the estate is small.

A challenge arises when there is no Will in place because a responsible person has not been singled out by the deceased, leading someone to apply for the authority of executor.

Typically a close relative will apply to the probate registry for a grant of letters of administration, which will confirm them as the executor or administrator.

This process can take months or even years to finalise in complicated situations so exercise patience in this area.

In much the same way, the grant of letters of administration serves to tell banks, building societies and insurance companies that you are the executor and thus have the right to access the deceased's assets.

See Lawpack's DIY Probate Kit, which has been approved by Kings Court Trust Corporation, for a comprehensive guide to the executor's duties. ADNFCR-1645-ID-801373195-ADNFCR

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Published on: May 28, 2012

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