We understand that when someone close to you dies and you are named as the executor, it can feel overwhelming. You may feel an immense pressure to carry out the deceased’s wishes correctly and it is difficult to know where to begin.
It is useful to have a pragmatic list to follow to know exactly what you need to do, and what is expected of you.
When someone close to you has passed away, the first thing you need to do is register their death by contacting your local register office and arranging an appointment.
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland this must be done within 5 days, or within 8 days in Scotland. An extension may only be granted when there is a coroner's inquest into a death.
Usually, appointments to register a death can only be made by family members, so even if you are an executor of the will, if you are not a relative, a relative of the deceased will need to register the death.
Upon registering a death, you will receive a death certificate that will enable you to arrange the funeral, apply for probate and deal with the estate. You can use the government website to search for your nearest register office.
If you are an executor, you should already know where the will is kept. If you are not an executor, you need to find the will. Common places for wills to be kept include an office or study in the house, a safe, drawers or safe filing cabinets. If you are unsuccessful in searching for the will manually, you can either contact the organisation who drew up the will and ask for a copy, or check to see if the will is held by the Principal Registry of the Family Division or Certainty (they will charge a fee).
Once you have the death certificate, you can arrange the funeral. Funerals generally take place within two weeks of a death. If the deceased has left any funeral wishes they will be included in the will.
If you are an executor, you are responsible for looking after the property and belongings of the deceased. This involves ensuring the windows and doors of any property belonging to the deceased are locked, as well as informing organisations about the death to freeze accounts and cancel any outgoing payments.
You should consider informing the deceased’s employer; mortgage provider; insurance provider; utility providers (gas, electricity, water, internet, TV); banks and building societies; pension providers; stocks and shares companies; premium bond providers; GP; dentist; optician; social services or carers; any subscription services as well as government departments including the passport office, DVLA and HMRC.
When a funeral has been arranged and their assets have been secured, you need to understand the value of the deceased’s assets. Valuing the assets will be easier if they have been included in part of the will, but if not, you will need to have access to their financial records.
Within your records, you need to know the value of all assets including any property owned, as well as money within banks, stocks and shares, pension, and insurance policies. You will also need to consider any debts or tax that is owed.
Once you have a clear understanding of the value of all assets, if the combined value is less than £10,000 and no property is owned, you are unlikely to need to apply for probate. However, if property is owned and the value is greater than £10,000 you will need to apply for probate.
The application process for probate involves correctly completing complicated paperwork including a probate application form and the correct inheritance tax form (either IHT205, IHT217 or IHT400).
When your application has been approved (usually within 6 weeks), you will receive a grant of probate in the post.
When you have received your grant of probate you are legally entitled to divide the deceased’s estate including selling property and claiming on any insurance policies.
If you are struggling to know what to do when a loved one has passed away, please feel free to get in touch for expert advice.