If the death is at home, your local doctor’s surgery or someone from their deputising service will make arrangements for a doctor or health professional to visit. During this time they will verify the death and advise you on how to move forward.
Once a registered medical practitioner (usually a GP) has confirmed the death, they will also need to certify the death by issuing a medical certificate of cause of death.
This certificate is required to formally register the death and is often given to you in a sealed envelope. Most doctors will explain what is written or show you the certificate in advance.
In the case that a pre-paid funeral plan has not been arranged, contact your local funeral director.
The funeral director will need to know some personal details about the deceased and whether they left a written record or told family or friends what arrangements they would prefer for their funeral.
A written record is often included as part of the deceased’s will, and therefore it is important to make endeavours to locate this prior to finalising any arrangements. A search of will register is a quick, easy and inexpensive way of locating a will.
If this is the case, arranging the funeral will be made simpler. If not, the funeral director will guide and support you in all aspects of arranging the funeral.
If you don’t know where the deceased’s will is, then a search with professional bodies who may have written a will local to where they lived may be conducted to try and locate it – as it may contain specific directions concerning their funeral wishes.
The registration of death is the formal record of death and is usually the responsibility of a family member.
In cases where a family member may not be available to register a death, the task would be the responsibility of someone who was present at the death, or the occupier of the premises where the death took place, or the person arranging the funeral (not the funeral director).
The registration process will depend on the nature and location of the death. All deaths need to be registered by the Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths in the district where the death takes place.
Deaths in England, Wales and Northern Ireland should normally be registered by the registrar within 5 days (8 days in Scotland). If a coroner is involved in the registration process, the registration can sometimes be delayed.
Once you have registered the death, the registrar will give you a green certificate (Certificate for Burial and Cremation) that allows for either burial or cremation to go ahead. In Scotland, the certificate is white. In the case of using a funeral director, they will require a copy of the green certificate.
The registrar will also give you a form to be sent to the Department for Work and Pensions (or the Social Security Agency in Northern Ireland), which allows the deceased’s pension and other benefits to be dealt with.
The registration of a death is a permanent record. This record is retained by the Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths.
The death certificate is usually requested by banks and other institutions. You may purchase as many copies of this document as you need, usually one per institution.
It is illegal to make your own copies of the death certificate and most organisations will not accept a photocopy as evidence of a death.
Before a death can be formally registered, a doctor will need to issue a medical certificate giving the cause of death.
A medical certificate is usually issued by a hospital doctor, who will hand the certificate to you in a sealed envelope addressed to the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages.
You will also be given a notice explaining how to register the death and to obtain a certified death certificate.
If the home of the deceased is left unoccupied, it is important to make sure that it is locked and that the deceased’s valuables are secure.
Post should be redirected to the address of one of the personal representatives (see below). To achieve this, you can get a form from the Post Office.
You will also need to make arrangements for insurance cover by contacting the buildings and contents insurance companies and informing them of the death. If you are looking after any items that were covered under an insurance policy you must remember to inform your own insurers of the situation.
If the deceased owned a car, the insurance company should be informed immediately as the insurance policy will automatically become invalid.
When a person dies, their money and belongings (or 'estate') are legally passed on to someone else.
If the deceased has written a will, then this needs to be consulted. The persons appointed in the deceased’s will to act as the executor(s) of the estate have the legal responsibility to carry out the wishes expressed in it.
Usually the will is stored with other vital documents in a secure location. This could be in a box file or a safe. In many cases a copy will also be kept with the solicitor who wrote it in liaison or on behalf of the deceased.
If there is a will, carefully take copies of it without removing any fastenings or compromising its original authenticity. Do not write on it or amend it in any way. Do not attach paperclips or notes to it of any kind.
The will and its copies should be stored in a safe place.
If there is no will, and you have taken steps to prove this by way of a will search, the closest relatives of the deceased are expected to apply for the role of administrator. The law sets out the order of priority for who is considered next of kin:
- The spouse or civil partner of the deceased
- Children of the deceased
- Issue of children of the deceased
- Parents of the deceased
- Brothers and sisters of the whole blood of the deceased
- Issue of brothers and sisters of the whole blood of the deceased
- Brothers and sisters of the half blood of the deceased
- Issue of brothers and sisters of the half blood of the deceased
- Grandparents of the deceased
- Aunts and uncles of the whole blood of the deceased
- Issue of aunts and uncles of the whole blood of the deceased
- Aunts and uncles of the half blood of the deceased
- Issue of aunts and uncles of the half blood of the deceased
When someone dies, the personal representative is responsible for administering the deceased person's estate. More than one personal representative may administer the estate, but only one will receive the grant of representation.
If the personal representative is named in the will they are called the executor. If there is no will, or they are not named in the will, they are known as the administrator. To help ascertain whether or not the deceased left a will, a will search may be carried out. This will also help to determine which is the last will of the deceased.
If you have not been named a personal representative, contact the appropriate persons who have. If you are acting as a personal representative, you will be entitled to administer the deceased’s estate.
The executor(s) or administrator(s) of the will is responsible for:
- Make endeavours to prove that a known will is the last will, or that no other will exists using a will search
- Applying for a grant of probate
- Placing a notice in The Gazette (as appropriate)
- Establishing the total assets of the deceased
- Paying the deceased’s debts
- Paying any tax owed, such as inheritance tax
- Distributing assets to beneficiaries, in accordance with the will
It is important to perform a thorough search of all the deceased's papers in order to learn about their financial affairs. Make a list of their assets and investments as well as the debts they owed.
You will need to make detailed enquiries so that you can find out about everything that makes up the deceased’s estate.
To assist with this the first step is to find out whether the deceased left a will, as this could help to identify what makes up the deceased’s estate. There are will register companies that search for wills daily, and are used by the legal profession, law firms, PI insurers, Government agencies, charities, the public and other associated sectors and organisations.
Once you have completed a list of assets, you will need to find out the final value of each asset. This list might include share certificates, bonds, bank accounts, pensions, cars, motorcycles, jewellery, furniture, and collectibles.
If the deceased was employed at the date of death, you should also write to the employer stating your position and ask for a final assessment of outstanding wages. Be sure to enclose a copy of the death certificate.
Once you have completed a list of debts, you will need to find out the final value of each debt. If the funeral did not have a pre-paid plan, be sure to include funeral expenses as a debt.
If the deceased had accounts in place with service providers these should be cancelled, provided they are in a sole name. Household bills such as water, gas, electricity and telephone will need to be settled or transferred to the spouse or civil partner’s new sole account.
If the deceased paid council tax or if there is a mortgage on the deceased’s property, you should contact the appropriate authorities as soon as possible.
You will also need to write to the companies asking for a final statement of the deceased’s accounts, if they have credit card bills, overdraft and loan agreements.
Each debt should be entered into the probate forms as debts of the estate, and settled out of the deceased’s estate when probate has been received.
When registering a death with asset and liability holders, you should ask them to confirm the value of each asset and liability at the date of death.
You should also ask them of the income levels received during the last tax year leading up to the date of death.
Depending upon the complexity of the estate, you may wish to consult with a professional. Most local solicitors offer services in carrying out investigations into estates, completing Inheritance Tax accounts and applying for probate.
It is common practice to open a personal representative’s bank account on behalf of the estate. Money will then be paid into this account as funds of the estate are released.
By opening a personal representative’s account, you will be able to write cheques for the probate application forms and to pay liabilities and debts where necessary.
Only when the grant of representation has been issued will the bank and other institutions transfer money from the deceased’s bank account into the personal representative’s account.
The Probate Registry is part of the Family Division of HM Courts and Tribunals Service, and is responsible for the administration of grants of probate and grants of letters of administration.
You will need to apply to the registry in order to obtain a grant of probate or letters of administration.
The registry is also where your interview will take place, at which time you'll swear an oath in order to obtain the grant.
You will need to ensure that all steps have been taken to ensure you are proceeding on the correct basis (i.e you are using the deceased’s last will, or have used reasonable endeavours to ensure that no other will exists to the best of your knowledge)
You can find a list of addresses and contact details of all UK probate registries on the Gov.uk website
In many cases, the personal representative of the estate is able to apply for probate themselves.
You can apply for the forms online or through the post. However, in the event of an intestate death (death without a will), complex estates or where the deceased has assets abroad, you should seek legal assistance.
The forms you need for probate (or confirmation in Scotland) depend on where the deceased lived. Probate forms are usually filled in together with the appropriate Inheritance Tax forms.
In England or Wales you will need probate application form PA1 (and associated forms).
In Scotland you will need probate application form C1 (and associated forms).
In Northern Ireland you should make an appointment with the Northern Ireland Court Service who will produce the probate forms.
When sending the completed forms to the registry office, be sure to include the original will and the deceased’s death certificate.
You should fill out form IHT400 if the value of the estate is subject to Inheritance Tax.
You will need to send form IHT400 to the HM Revenue and Customs Inheritance Tax Office. If you are unable or unsure how to calculate the total amount of tax owed, HMRC will do it for you.
If the estate is liable for Inheritance Tax, you must also complete form IHT421 and send it together with PA1 (or C1) to the registry office. These should be sent along with the will and the death certificate.
Form IHT421 is used as a receipt, which will be stamped and returned to you at the time of your interview at the Probate Registry.
The probate fees are currently £105 for a personal application and £1 per copy of the grant.
Inheritance Tax will need to be paid before the grant of representation has been received and therefore before it has been possible to draw in all the assets of the estate.
There are various ways to pay Inheritance Tax due on an estate, including paying on account or paying in instalments. For a complete list of payment methods, please see the HMRC guide referenced below.
It is important to ensure that Inheritance Tax is paid no later than six months from the end of the month in which the deceased died. Interest will be charged on unpaid tax after that date.
A few weeks after sending the probate application forms, you will be sent a letter confirming the date and time for an interview at the registry office. All personal representatives must attend this interview.
You should bring all of your paperwork to the interview in case you need to support your workings.
Once the appropriate forms are signed and the registry has all the information they need, you will be asked to sign the accounts and swear the executor’s or administrator’s oath, promising that the information you have given in the application form is true to your best knowledge and belief.
By swearing this oath you also promise to carry out your duty to distribute the estate in accordance with the will or intestacy rules within a reasonable timeframe.
Proof of a will search will help you prove that reasonable steps have been taken to ensure that you are proceeding on a well-informed basis, using best practice procedures, and therefore swearing this oath to the best of your knowledge.
After you swear the executor’s or administrator’s oath, you will be asked to sign the will. The registry may also ask for you to submit the estate accounts once the administration of the estate is complete.
The grant of representation will be sent to you by post from the Probate Registry.
After you get the grant of representation (or confirmation) and have paid any inheritance tax due, you can start to collect the money from the estate. You can then pay any debts owed by the estate and distribute the estate according to the will or the rules of intestacy.
This procedure should be straightforward as you should have already obtained valuations for everything you need to sell. All the asset holders should also be prepared at this time to release funds on receipt of a copy of probate.
After you have received grant of representation, it is recommended that you put a statutory advertisement (under the Trustee Act 1925 for England, or the Trustee Act 1958 in Northern Ireland) in The Gazette and a local newspaper.
The purpose of publishing a deceased estates notice is to ensure that sufficient effort has been made to locate creditors prior to distributing the estate to beneficiaries and protecting the executor or trustee from being liable from any unidentified creditors.
Should a notice not be placed and a creditor subsequently comes forward after the estate has been distributed, then you may have some personal liability for an unidentified debt. You can find the legislation at legislation.gov.uk.
The placing of a notice in The Gazette is required by the majority of missing will insurance providers.
Section 27 of the Trustee Act 1925, sets out a minimum of 2 months from the date of publication during which creditors should contact executors. If the estate includes a property then a notice should also be put in to a newspaper local to the property.
The grant gives you the authority to collect all of the estate’s assets. You should contact all relevant organisations and send them a copy of the grant.
The organisation should, upon receiving the grant, release the assets so you can transfer them into the personal representative’s account that you have set up.
It is very important that this is done on a well-informed basis, as to which is the deceased’s last will, or being able to show that sufficient steps have been taken to prove the deceased did not leave a will. Missing will insurance may be considered as a level of protection when seeking to distribute the estate.
After you have placed a notice in The Gazette, and claimed the estate’s assets, you should undergo the process of paying off debts.
There is a set order of priority for whom should be paid first:
- Funeral expenses if not previously paid
- Any taxes
- Creditors, such as loans, mortgages, and outstanding debts
- If there is a will, and there are no creditors to make a claim against the estate, the beneficiaries can be paid
When paying off debts such as credit card loans or household bills, you should remember to ask for a full and final receipt of settlement. This receipt will be needed for your final accounts.
Once all debts and taxes have been paid, you can distribute the estate as detailed in the will or using the law, if there is no will.
If the deceased owned stocks and shares you should write to the registrar of the respective share company and ask them for confirmation that the certificates you have found are valid. You will be asked for a copy of the death certificate.
Receive an estimate of the share value or a formal valuation in the case of the estate being over the Inheritance Tax threshold. Complete the stock and share transfer forms as provided by the registrar of the respective company.
You should also draft an assent for the property.
In order to produce final accounts, the financial information that you have collated throughout the entire probate process needs to be put into an organised report.
This report must be approved by all of the personal representatives, if there is more than one.
The final accounts must include a summary of the estate. It should consist of:
- A summary of the assets at the date of death
- A summary of the liabilities at the date of death
- A summary of the income received during the period of administration
- A summary of the changes in asset value (i.e. an increase in a property price)
- A summary of administrative expenses incurred during the period of administration
- A summary of the distribution of legacies and the residue to beneficiaries
After all assets have been claimed and after all debts and taxes have been paid, you should finalise the estate accounts and prepare to pay the beneficiaries.
The finalised accounts must be approved and signed, by both you and the main beneficiaries. You should send a copy of the accounts to each of the personal representatives for their approval. Ask them to sign and return them to you.
When the accounts have been agreed the remaining money in the personal representative’s bank account can now be distributed and the account can be closed.