What to do when someone dies
14 March 2017
When a loved one dies, and you are the next of kin, there are legal formalities that must be dealt with. Wills and probate lawyer, Susan Hall at Myers & Co Solicitors in Staffordshire explains what you should do.
Registering a death
Your first duty is to register the death. Either the next of kin or the executors can do this. The hospital or doctor who confirmed the death will give you a medical certificate stating the cause of death. This certificate is in a sealed envelope which you must not open.
You will then need to telephone your local Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages to make an appointment to register the death. The death must be registered closest to the place where the death occurred.
At the end of your appointment, the registrar will give you the death certificate. It is a good idea to request a few copies of the death certificate in order to speed up the administration of your loved one’s estate. The registrar will also give you a form to be completed and sent to the Department for Work and Pensions, and a certificate for burial or cremation for you to give to the funeral director.
Organising a funeral
The funeral arrangements can be made by anyone in the family or by the executors of the will. Check personal papers for a will to see if a pre-paid funeral plan has been arranged or if there are any specific funeral wishes.
Locating a will
The original will is usually held by the solicitor who prepared it, but you may also find a copy at home.
If the will was made a long time ago, the solicitors firm may have changed name or merged with another firm. If in doubt, the local law society may be able to help. In the event that you cannot find a copy of the will, a solicitor can advise you on how to search for a missing will.
Myers & Co are founder members of Certainty, the national database of will and can arrange a search of this database and of all solicitors within this area in which the deceased lived or formally lived.
Administering an estate
If the assets include property or land and/or there are assets over £5,000 you will need a court order known as a grant of representation which can be either a grant of probate or a grant of letters of administration.
The executors have a duty to administer your loved one’s estate in accordance with their will. Although the will gives the executors the authority to deal with the deceased’s estate, in order to dispose of the assets the executor may need to apply for a court order called a grant of probate.
Many people find it easier to instruct a solicitor to administer the estate because it can be time consuming and complicated.
A grant of probate usually takes about three months but the entire administration process can take up to a year to complete, even in simple cases. This is because government bodies such as the Department for Work and Pensions and HMRC may also need to be involved.
Letters of administration
Where a will cannot be found, the estate must be distributed according to rules of intestacy. You will need to apply for a court order similar to a grant of probate called a grant of letters of administration. There is a strict order of priority as to who can apply for the grant of letters of administration.
Your solicitor will advise you on who inherits the estate and the order of entitlement when there is no will. The result may not always be what you expect. For instance, under the rules of intestacy, spouses often have to share their inheritance with children, step-children or parents-in-law.
Disputing a will
If you have concerns about the validity of a will, for example if you suspect it has been forged, tampered with or you are concerned whether it was made in sound mind, you should speak with a solicitor as soon as possible. If the will is found to be invalid for any reason, any previous will or the intestacy rules will apply.
Claiming financial provision under current legislation
Certain relatives and people who were financially dependent on the deceased can make a claim against the estate if they feel that the will, or intestacy rules, do not adequately provide for them.
If you wish to make such a claim you should speak with a solicitor as soon as possible, as strict time limits will apply.
Varying a will
If all affected beneficiaries agree, the will or intestacy rules can be changed using a document called a deed of variation. This might be done for a variety of reasons. One reason is to give effect to an agreement reached between the beneficiaries following a dispute or claim. The usual reason, however, for tax purposes and to be effective for this, the deed must be completed within two years of death.
For more information on getting probate, grant of letters of administration and making a will, please contact Susan Hall, a solicitor in our wills and probate team on 01782 577000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This can be a more difficult process as it may involve research into the family by a genealogist.
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.