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Practical matters when arranging probate

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Image of insurance files

Remember to get someone to deal with issues such as insurance promptly

The period which comes immediately after someone has died can be one which is uncertain and difficult both emotionally and financially.  This is a brief note of the most important actions to be taken at this difficult time.

Locate the Will. It is important to locate the deceased’s Will and if it is not immediately available, to conduct a thorough search of the home of the person who has died and make enquiries of those who may hold a Will (bear in mind that this is not restricted to law firms as Wills may also be stored by financial advisers, will writers, banks and accountants to name a few). The Will will state who are the appointed Executors of the estate and these people are the ones who have responsibility for dealing with the estate.  They need not show the Will to beneficiaries or anybody who asks them of this as the Will is confidential until the Grant of Probate is issued.

Occasionally, the family of the person to die or perhaps those involved with their affairs deal with things as they see fit. This may cause difficulty later on in the administration of the estate, especially if their actions are not in accordance with the Will of the deceased, the intestacy rules or if there later arises a dispute in the estate and proper record keeping and accounts have not been kept. It is never correct to ignore a Will or its instructions. Executors are appointed to carry out the wishes and instructions of the deceased. Those Executors who do not deal with the estate in accordance with the Will do so at their own peril as they are personally liable for their actions. Be aware that authority under a power of attorney will lose effect on death.

Make property secure. If the deceased lived alone, then the property will have to be made secure against intruders and be made safe from damage.  The belongings of the deceased should not be removed by anyone until it has been determined if there is a Will. Allowing this to happen would mean that there is the possibility that the deceased’s wishes are not carried out and may deprive legatees of their rightful inheritance as items, no matter how trivial they may seem, may be the subject matter of a gift.

Bank accounts. Banks in which the deceased held accounts will need to be notified and the accounts frozen.

Insurance. Home contents and buildings insurance providers will need to be informed and there is little harm in telephoning them to inform them of the death despite not yet having registered the death. They will likely require a death certificate and this can be sent to them once available, nonetheless, this will at least put them on notice.

Registration of death. Unless a coroner’s report is required, the death can be registered at the Register for Births Deaths and Marriages with the medical certificate of death provided by a doctor.  An appointment will need to be made at the local registrar and it would be sensible when registering the death to obtain at least three copies of the death certificate.  Bring cash to pay for the death certificates.

A certificate which is issued by the registrar is also needed in order for the body to be buried or cremated.  This certificate will have to be given to the funeral director, who will not be able to proceed without it as it should confirm whether the deceased had any implants such as pacemakers etc.

Collate estate information. Whilst all of this is happening, it would be sensible to collate as much information as to the estate of the deceased as possible.  This will include details relating to bank or building society accounts as well as utilities and ongoing subscriptions. Do not overlook pensions, life cover and annuities. In short, collate information on all organisations that had dealings with the deceased, whether public sector or private. It is also important to find out as much information as possible regarding the debts and liabilities of the deceased. Whilst it may seem untidy, sometimes the best way to deal with this is to collect all of the deceased’s paperwork and hand it to the solicitor dealing with the estate administration. If the deceased had a car, the people previously allowed to use it are unlikely to be covered by the deceased’s insurance.

Personal details & documents. A note should be made listing the deceased’s marital status, date and place of birth as well as the address at the date of death (although this may be obvious).  Further information which will be useful would be the deceased’s National Insurance number, NHS number and if possible the tax reference number (this can be found on a P60 or tax return).

Collating this information would make it a lot easier when seeing the solicitor instructed in the estate for the first time.  It would also help focus the minds of those who are assisting in the estate on what information will be needed.

Documents which will be very useful to have to hand when seeing your solicitor would be documents such as the deceased’s birth certificate, if the deceased was a widower or widow or a surviving civil partner, then the death certificate of their deceased partner would be needed as well as a marriage or civil partnership certificate.  Documents such as passports and driving licence should also be obtained as these will need to be cancelled.

While this note will hopefully be helpful as a guide as to what to do when someone dies, it is not meant to be an exhaustive list as each person’s affairs vary a great deal.

It may perhaps be useful to make an appointment with your solicitor either prior to or during the collation of the above information and doing all of the above so that there is a target and timeline to which to work towards.

By George Carter of the Wills, Trusts & Estates team at Cambridge solicitors Barr Ellison

Disclaimer: While we do all that is possible in terms of ensuring its accuracy, this blog contains general information only. Nothing in these pages constitutes legal advice. You need to consult a suitably qualified lawyer from the firm on any specific legal problem or matter.

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