10 Steps of Dealing With a Bereavement

Each step gives you an overview of the process, with links and information to help you.

If you’re still not sure how much professional help you need go to our Help you Decide page to start with.
Alternatively, if you want more in-depth advice and guidance, have a look at the other services available to you.
If you would prefer, you can also go through your options with a dedicated Bereavement Adviser.

Step 1

Immediate steps to take
Registering a Death

The process of registering the death is quite informal and involves a face-to-face interview with the Registrar. To locate your nearest Registrar click here.

The Registrar will be on hand to guide you throughout, however, you may feel more comfortable taking somebody along with you.

The Bereavement Support Network provides more information and guidance if required, and they can be found here, or by calling 0808 168 9607.

Tell Us Once

Tell us Once is a service offered online here.

Once you have filled in the details it will notify Government organisations that someone has passed away. It is a great help and reduces some of the notifications that an Executor or Administrator would need to complete.

Who does Tell us Once notify?

  • HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC)
    • You will need to contact HMRC separately for business taxes, like VAT.
  • Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)
  • Passport Office
  • Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA)
  • The local council
  • Public sector or armed forces pension schemes

You will be required to notify other organisations such as Banks and Building societies separately.

The Death Notification Service

The Death Notification Service, found here, makes the job of reporting a death to financial institutions much easier. Like the Tell Us Once service run by the Government, when you inform The Death Notification Service of all participating bank and building society accounts held by the deceased, they will notify each institution for you, including their various brands, all at the same time.

If you are an Executor or Administrator you will receive information about what to do next once you have completed the notification. Alternatively, if you are not dealing with the affairs of the deceased, and you simply want to help inform institutions, all correspondence will be sent to the Executors or Administrators.

It is recommended that you use both the Tell Us Once and The Death Notification Services as they are two separate and independently run services.

Arranging and organising the funeral

Once the death has been registered, you can start to make the arrangements for the funeral. You will need to check if there is a funeral plan in place as a Funeral Director may be specified, if not then you will need to locate one yourself.

If you would like any help and advice contact us and speak to our dedicated Funeral Adviser, free of charge, about all aspects of arranging a funeral. For example, help to locate a local Funeral Director. Alternatively, use our callback form and we will contact you at a time to suit.

The Funeral Director will guide you through the whole process and can make all of the practical arrangements on your behalf. You may choose to hand everything over to them or to retain some involvement. The main duties of a Funeral Director are:

  1. To take care of the body
  2. Ensure that all the necessary documentation is completed to legally allow the burial or cremation
  3. Make it all happen, at the right time, in the right place and with the right people present

Things you may want to think about are:

  • Burial or cremation?
  • What type of coffin?
  • Religious or non-religious ceremony?
  • Flowers or donations?
  • Should there be a wake?
Securing the Property

If the deceased’s property is now vacant it is important to ensure the property is secured. Make sure all of the windows are closed, the boiler is drained downed, electricals are unplugged and all taps are turned off tightly. It is also important to ensure that the property is adequately insured and secured.

If you need to find out who the current energy supplier to the property is, the National Energy Association (NEA) have some helpful advice here.

Looking after any children, elderly relatives and pets

Vulnerable persons (including children, elderly relatives or disabled dependents):
If the deceased had been caring for a vulnerable person you may need to contact your local Social Services.

Looking after Pets:
If the deceased has any Pets that cannot be looked after by family or friends, it is the Executors’ responsibility to ensure these animals are cared for. People often leave instruction within their Will for their animals. If this is not the case, then you may need to contact a shelter:

Stop unwanted mail

The deceased may continue to get mail until all parties have been informed. The Bereavement Support Network can help you remove the deceased’s name from direct marketing lists and stop unwanted mail. Click here for more information.

Helping you to deal with your grief

You may be struggling with many overwhelming thoughts and feelings at the moment. If you would like to talk to someone you can chat directly to a specially trained GriefChat bereavement counsellor. GriefChat counsellors are experienced in supporting bereaved people and will listen to your story, explore how your grief is affecting you and help you find any additional support you might need.

GriefChat is a completely free service and is available Monday-Friday, 9am-9pm or by email out of these hours. Click here to go to our GriefChat page.

Alternatively, The Bereavement Support Network have information about the stages of grief, feelings and coping with a bereavement, here, which can help you at this difficult time.

Step 2

Is there a Will? Conduct a search
Finding the Will

If you are aware that the deceased has left a Will, it is important to locate the most recently dated, valid document.

For a Will to be valid, it needs to have been signed and witnessed in a particular way, in order to comply with the law. The Will should be in writing, signed and dated by the person who has died and witnessed by two independent witnesses, who must not be benefiting from the Will.

If Trust Inheritance holds the Will for the deceased, please contact us here, and we can help you further. Alternatively you can request the Will via a short questionnaire here.

If you are unsure of where the Will is held, we strongly recommend that you carry out a search with Will Registration companies to see if they have any details of a later Will. We recommend using both Certainty – The National Will Register and Will Register UK.

They will search both their own databases, as well as, make local and national searches with Solicitors and Will Writers.

No Will: The rules of intestacy

If someone dies without leaving a Will at all, or where the Will is invalid / cancelled, they are said to have died “intestate”. The rules of intestacy are followed to establish who can inherit from the estate, click here.

Opening an Executor Account

When dealing with the estate it is your responsibility to collect in all of the Assets and keep an accurate record of ALL monies paid in and out. It is advisable to open an Executor Account and, although it is unlikely you will receive any monies straight away, it is a good idea to open up the bank account as soon as possible so that you can pay in any monies you do receive. It is good practice to open an Executor Account regardless of the size of the estate and to arrange it with either your bank or the bank of the deceased’s.

Estate Accounts

It is important to keep accurate accounts of all monies coming in and leaving the estate at this stage and going forward. This information will be needed to produce the Estate Accounts, a copy of which will need to be sent to all beneficiaries for them to agree, before the estate can be distributed. Opening an Executor Account will help with this, as an electronic record will be kept of the income and outgoings, and enables you to evidence all of the activity correctly if required. For more information see Step 9.

Book a Callback

Why not book a free telephone appointment with one of our trained Legal or Bereavement Advisers who can chat through your questions, concerns and discuss your existing services, or where applicable recommend new services you may need.

Step 3

Valuing the estate for probate
The Assets

To value the estate correctly and establish whether a Grant of Probate is needed, you are required to ascertain what Assets the deceased owned. You will need to make contact with each company, bank, building society and financial institution to gain date of death balances.

The Debts

As with the Assets, any Debts the deceased had, need to be identified. Debts include credit cards, loans, Mortgages, etc. All creditors will need to be informed and accurate date of death balances obtained.

Using our Executor Toolkit will help you to keep track of the Assets and Debts, and with over 50 letter templates, it will also help you contact each institution. To find out more about the Bereavement Services available to you click here.

Tracing Assets

An Asset can be separated by its owner for a number of reasons, for example a change of an address. It is your responsibility to search for any dormant accounts to ensure they are settled. For further advice and to search for dormant accounts click here.

Gifts made by the person who has died

Gifts include;

  1. Any gift made within the 7 years prior to the date of death
  2. Any gift made where the person who died retained a benefit, for example a gift of their home and then continued to live there.

It is important that an accurate record is kept relating to these gifts since they will need to be disclosed to the HMRC, and depending on the value and types of gifts, may affect the Inheritance Tax position of the estate.

Is the estate taxable?

Do the assets of the deceased including property and cash assets total more than £325,000?
If yes, was the deceased widowed? Has the deceased recently given any taxable gifts? These are some of the questions which affect if Nil Rate Band applies and how much Inheritance Tax (IHT) is payable.

Other taxes will need to be considered as well, such as Capital Gains and Income Tax, all of which are the responsibility of the Executors / Administrators. You will need to complete IHT forms and pay any IHT due.

Administrative Tasks
  • Return the Driving Licence (both the photo card and paper, where applicable) to DVLA, Swansea, SA99 1AB
  • Return the Passport to the Passport Office enclosing this form to Customer Contact Centre, Her Majesty’s Passport Office, PO Box 767, Southport, PR8 9PW.
  • Return any library membership cards to the local library
  • Return any bus passes, disabled badges or parking permits
  • Cancel any club memberships

Step 4

Identifying the beneficiaries
Finding the beneficiaries

Part of your role as an Executor / Administrator is to ensure that all of the beneficiaries named in the Will are located. As previously mentioned, if there is not a current, valid Will then the Rules of Intestacy will apply.

It is usual to send a letter and a copy of the Will to all of the beneficiaries to let them know what their entitlement is. It is also advisable to ask for identification, such as photo ID and a copy of a recent utility bill.

Using the Executor Toolkit allows you can keep track of all beneficiaries by creating a beneficiary worksheet. This will enable you to keep all of their details together for when you distribute the estate. There is also more information on how to locate missing beneficiaries, beneficiaries under 18 years old, Bankrupt beneficiaries and vulnerable beneficiaries. To find out more about the Bereavement Services available to you click here.

Deceased beneficiary

If a beneficiary has died, then you need to look to the Will for any provision. If the beneficiary was a child, grandchild, or a more distant descendant of the deceased, then the law states that their share automatically passes to their descendant; unless there is any wording within a Will to stop this from happening, for example “but if he dies before me then his share will pass to my sister”.

If the beneficiary died within 28 days (or a different period if specified in the Will) of the deceased, then it could well be considered that they died first for distribution purposes. If they died after the 28 days, then the beneficiary would still be entitled to their share or gift and it will now form part of their own estate.

Missing beneficiary

Evidence is required to prove that every attempt has been made to locate any missing beneficiaries; which could mean employing the services of a professional. However, this can become expensive and it is worth you conducting thorough searches first.

Beneficiary under 18 years old

If there are beneficiaries who are under the age of 18 years old, or under the vesting age stated in the Will, then their share of the inheritance will need to be held in trust for them until they reach a specific age; usually 18, 21 or 25 years old. You will need to ensure suitable Trustees (this could be yourself) are instructed to look after the inheritance until that time.

Bankrupt beneficiary

If a beneficiary is bankrupt, then their share will need to be dealt with in a different way and would be due to be paid towards the debt. It is advisable to get professional advice regarding this.

Vulnerable beneficiary

In some cases, there may be vulnerable beneficiaries who are unable to deal with substantial amounts of money they are due to inherit. It is your responsibility to ensure that the inheritance is managed and looked after correctly for the beneficiary.

Help Me Decide

Not sure where to start? Complete our simple questionnaire. It only takes a few minutes and is designed to help you decide how much professional bereavement help you need.

Step 5

Applying for the Grant of Probate
What is the Grant of Representation/Probate/Letters of Administration

The Grant of Representation is a court order and the official authority to deal with the estate of the person who has died. The grant is issued by the Probate Registry which is part of the High Court. There are different types of grants, the most common are:

  1. Grant of Probate – This is the court order issued to the Executor(s) under a Will.
  2. Grant of Letters of Administration – This is the court order issued to the administrators where the person died without a valid Will.
  3. Grant of Letters of Administration with Will annexed – This is the court order issued to the Administrator(s) where there is a valid Will, but there are no Executors appointed, or they are unable or unwilling to act.

You may hear this being referred to as “Probate”.

Following the death, many of the Assets will be frozen and the asset holders will only release the Assets to you once they are happy you have the authority to act. The Grant of Representation evidences this authority.

Do I need the Grant of Representation?

Not sure whether you need a Grant of Probate? You can speak to one of our experts who will go through this with you, contact us here. Alternatively, you may want to do it yourself but would like the safety net of a Legal Assistant and their support? To find out more about about the Bereavement Services available to you click here.

Possible delays may affect your application for a Grant of Representation (Grant of Probate/Letter of Administration)

We are currently seeing an average delay of 7 weeks for Grants of Representation (Grants of Probate/Letters of Administration) to be issued by all Government Registry Offices in England and Wales. In some areas this has been considerably longer.

Software ‘glitches’ with the new Government case management system recently implemented, combined with the proposed probate fee changes* which caused an increase in applications by 200%, has resulted in a large backlog. The Probate Registries are working hard to get through everyone’s application as soon as possible.

Check back again for more information on the delays or proposed fee increases. In the meantime, if you have any concerns please do not hesitate to contact us.

*The proposed new fee structure would mean that fees are linked to the size of an estate rather than a standard fee for all. Approval for the new fees, due in April 2019, has been postponed by the Government.

Step 6

Calculate the assets and debts
Statutory Notices

It is strongly advised you advertise for any unknown creditors and / or beneficiaries to come forward. This offers protection and reduces your liability in the event of an unknown creditor comes forward at a later date; after all of the money has been paid out. If you do not place the advertisement and money has been paid out the estate, then you may be expected to settle with the creditor from your own funds.

The advertisement expires after 2 months and 1 day, after which time it is safe to distribute the estate, although it is advisable to wait 6 months from the date of death in the event of any claims being brought against the estate.

To place a notice click here.

Register the Grant or Statutory Declarations with the Asset Holders

Once you have obtained the Grant of Representation it needs to be sent to all of the required companies to enable them to release the monies. This can either be the original or one of the sealed office copies.

Selling Assets

Once the Grant of Representation has been received, you will be able to legally complete the sale of Assets, such as property or investments.

Collecting money

As you start to receive monies from the asset holders, you will need to ensure that the money is paid into the Executor account, keeping a separate note of the income and capital. Setting up a Cash account will help you with this.

Paying the Debts

Although there is no legal time limit for the payments to be made, it is advisable to wait until the expiry date of the statutory notices (which is 2 months and 1 day from the date of the notice, this is the time given for any unknown creditors or beneficiaries to come forward) before settling the Debts.

Debts are a priority and should be paid before any of the beneficiaries receive their entitlement.

Paying the Expenses

As well as existing Debts, there will also be certain Expenses that need to be paid, this will include any that have paid on behalf of the estate.

Step 7

Helping the beneficiaries
Checks before paying the beneficiaries

Before the beneficiaries can be paid, you need to confirm the following:

  1. You have identified all of the beneficiaries
  2. You have checked to see if the Will/Intestacy needs to be varied
  3. You have paid all of the creditors and Expenses
  4. You have identified and understand the gifts described
  5. There is enough money to pay all of the beneficiaries their full share
  6. You have waited 6 months from the date of death before distributing the Assets

If there is not enough money in the estate to pay all of the beneficiaries then they will need to be paid in a specific order. If you find yourself in this position, you may prefer professional help to ensure that the Assets are distributed correctly, in the correct proportions.

Varying the terms of the Will?

Deed of Variation or Deed of Family Arrangement, do you need to know more? If so, please contact our experts here.

Giving out the specific bequests

For more information, please contact our Bereavement Team on 0800 840 1665.

Paying the pecuniary legacies

For more information, please contact our Bereavement Team on 0800 840 1665.

Making an interim distribution to the residuary beneficiaries

Executors must be satisfied that all debts, taxes and liabilities have been, or can be, settled before making any distributions. They can consider making small interim payments to the beneficiaries if they are confident there is enough funds to settle all debts due when trying up the Estate.

Paying the beneficiaries

Once the bequests have been given and any cash legacies paid, the remaining Assets can be distributed. This is the residue. You may prefer to talk to us directly and obtain more information about the correct practice for dealing with the residue.

Step 8

Finalising the tax liabilities
Income Tax

It is important to note, that you are responsible for ensuring the tax position of the person who has died is finalised. You will need to cover the tax position up until the date of death as well as the administration period.

Capital Gains Tax

As is the case with Income Tax, when dealing with an estate, Capital Gains Tax is broken down into two parts. The first part will cover capital gains and losses up until the date of death and the second part will cover the administration period.

Inheritance Tax

If any of the Assets have significantly changed in value, which will affect the Inheritance Tax position, you need to let the HMRC know immediately.

Step 9

Completing the estate accounts
What are Estate Accounts

Estate accounts is a detailed report of the financial information about the estate that you have collected throughout the administration.

You will need to account for every penny and so it is important that the information is correct. Estate accounts give a complete picture of how an estate is made up and how it has been dealt with. As such it provides an invaluable source of reference and will help deal with any queries that can arise after the administration has been completed.

Summary of the estate

For more information, please contact our Bereavement Team on 0800 840 1665.

Detailing of the Assets and Debts

For more information, please contact our Bereavement Team on 0800 840 1665.

Listing the Administration Expenses and specific gifts

For more information, please contact our Bereavement Team on 0800 840 1665.

Identifying income and capital payments

For more information, please contact our Bereavement Team on 0800 840 1665.

Calculating the final distribution

For more information, please contact our Bereavement Team on 0800 840 1665.

Do I really need Estate Accounts?

In short, Yes…

Personal representatives have statutory duties set out in section 25 of the Administration of Estates Act 1925 to:

  1. “Collect and get in the real and personal estate of the deceased and administer it according to law;”
  2. “When required to do so by the court exhibit on oath in the Court a full inventory of the estate and when so required render an account of the administration of the estate to the Court;”

You have sworn to deliver accounts to the Court, if and when these may be required.

Step 10

Distributing the Estate
Distributing the estate

As the administration comes to an end, it is worth running through the list below to check that everything has been completed:

  • Did you notify all of the utilities when the house was sold / transferred and all the balances paid or refunded?
  • Have you paid all of the Debts and Expenses?
  • Have you recognised and collected in all of the Assets?
  • Are all of the Assets now sold or transferred to the beneficiaries?
  • Have you got clearance from HMRC for Income Tax, Capital Gains Tax (where applicable and Inheritance Tax?
  • Are you happy you have identified all of the beneficiaries, you have their ID and you have carried out Bankruptcy searches?
  • Have all of the beneficiaries and personal representatives approved the accounts?
  • Have you waited 6 months from the date of death before distributing the estate?
Income Tax Certificates

You will have realised that the money the beneficiaries have received will be made up of capital, cash, actual assets etc. and some of it will be income, bank account interest, share dividends etc. It is important to let the beneficiaries know the details of the income so that they can disclose this in their own Tax Return. You do this by issuing a R185, Certificate of deduction of income tax form, to each of the residuary beneficiaries. You can find a copy of this form here.

Helping the beneficiaries

The beneficiaries will have inherited, what might be a life changing amount of money, and as such they may require advice on how to invest their Inheritance. Many asset management companies or Independent Financial Advisers can help with this and you may find that the beneficiary already has someone in mind. If they do not we can point them in the right direction and refer them to one of our carefully selected partners. Contact us for more information.

Final Administration Tasks

To finish the administration there are a couple of small tasks that need to be completed, detailed below:

  • Make sure you have all of the receipts from the beneficiaries.
  • Close the Executor bank account – make sure there are no funds remaining before closing this.
  • Tidy up your files and make sure all of your worksheets are complete and up-to-date. You need to keep all of the information for 12 years and you may find that you need to refer back to this from time to time.

Bereavement Services

Now you have an understanding of what is involved in administering an estate you may wish to look through your options again. We can help and support you as much, or as little, as you need.

Get in Touch

Have a question? Need some help? We are happy to go through any queries you may have. Call, email or CHAT with us LIVE online using the link in the bottom right of the screen for an instant response.