What to do when someone dies
When someone dies, unless they do not own their home and leave only extremely modest savings or possessions, there are legal processes that must be carried out to deal with their assets (administration).
This procedure varies according to the value of all they have left, and whether or not they had a valid Will.
Somebody has to deal with all their assets, including their bank accounts, savings and property (known as their Estate).
This involves establishing the exact date of death values, completing a tax return and, if necessary, paying death duties (inheritance tax), liabilities and debts and distributing the remainder to those who are entitled to it.
Unless and until everything has been completed correctly, no assets held in the sole name of the deceased can be released to those entitled.
If any assets are incorrectly distributed, the person dealing with the administration of the Estate could also find themselves personally liable to any people who receive less than that to which they are entitled.
In order to release the assets of the deceased, to collect in money and to transfer or dispose of property, a grant of representation will need to be issued by making an application to the Court.
If there is a valid Will and the deceased has appointed an Executor to deal with these matters, the Court will issue a Grant of Probate.
If there is a valid Will, but no named Executors who are able or willing to act, the grant is called Letters of Administration with the Will annexed. You should contact us or other specialist solicitors so that we can explain who should be dealing with the administration.
If there is no valid Will, then the grant is called Letters of Administration and again you should contact us for advice.
The procedure which has to be followed to obtain a grant from the Court is often a lot more complex than people realise, requiring strict legal rules to be followed.
The Executors or those responsible for dealing with the administration (the Personal Representatives or PRs) would be best advised to seek our guidance, or that of other solicitors specialising in this area of law, before doing anything.
The Personal Representatives are legally responsible for all their actions in relation to the estate of the deceased and also their omissions.
They could easily find themselves facing a large personal fine from H.M. Revenue & Customs if the Revenue is not satisfied, even though the PR may have been unaware or ignorant of any problem or mistake.
We specialise in this area of law.
The person handling your matter deals with everything personally and you can speak to them at any time, rather than to an anonymous probate team.
Unlike some banks and other high street names, we do not sub-contract our clients’ matters to anonymous third parties.
In addition, we are able to deal with all matters relating to the Estate. Some aspects relating to an administration can legally only be dealt with by solicitors.
If you have recently lost someone, and are unsure what to do, simply telephone us.
We are happy to spend time on the telephone giving you general guidance, explaining what must be done first and advising whether a meeting might be beneficial for you. There is no charge for this telephone advice.
If you feel a meeting would be a good idea, we can arrange a convenient time to meet and to go through the Will and paperwork of the deceased with you.
We offer specific advice as to what will need to be done and in what order.
We shall also advise whether we feel the administration would be better handled by professionals or whether a competent person with sufficient time could deal with it themselves.
We will also let you know the likely cost of our dealing with the administration if instructed.
If, as a result of the meeting you would like us to deal with the administration on your behalf, we should be pleased to act.
If not, you are welcome to use the advice given if you prefer to deal with the matter yourself. We are often able to offer this meeting and the advice given without charge; if the deceased’s circumstances are more complex, you will simply pay a modest fee (explained to you in advance and confirmed in writing) for the time and advice given at the meeting.
Alternatively, if you feel that you can deal with most of the administration yourself, but would like us to deal with the legal aspects of obtaining the grant on your behalf, we shall explain what is needed to enable us to complete the inheritance tax return and to draw up the Oath for you to swear.
This initial meeting is extremely important, as there may be some implications that may have not been considered by the family, believing everything to be straightforward.
For example, if the deceased had been married and is the first of the couple to die, most of the assets may be held jointly with the surviving spouse.
If so, this would normally simplify the administration and often the surviving spouse (or the PRs) would be able to deal with some, or even all, of the administration without professional assistance.
However, at the initial meeting we would be able to consider the bigger picture – that is, the combined estates of the deceased and the surviving spouse – and would be able where applicable to advise regarding future potential issues such as care fees or an inheritance tax liability on the eventual death of the surviving spouse.
By considering these and other matters at this time, there may prove to be an advantage in taking steps to re-organise the estates to mitigate a future inheritance tax liability or address other family situations.
If no consideration is given to the overall situation until the surviving spouse dies, it is generally too late to avoid such problems, which may prove very expensive.