Dealing with Someone’s Affairs When They Die

Whether you’re a nominated executor or suddenly find yourself having to deal with the estate of someone who has died without a will, navigating the probate process can seem daunting. It can also be particularly hard to take care of all the responsibilities involved at a time when you’re grieving the loss of a loved one.

How simple or convoluted the process will be largely depends upon the value and nature of the person’s estate. Firstly, you need to ascertain what assets form the estate. This is commonly:

  • Personal possessions, like furniture and jewellery
  • Their home or other property
  • Vehicles
  • Money – cash and whatever is in any bank accounts, ISAs, building society accounts etc.
  • Paper assets like stocks, bonds and investments
  • Digital assets

Applying for probate

Once you have assessed the size of the estate and the type of assets involved, you’ll be in a position to know whether or not you will need to make an application for probate. In many cases, you will need to apply for probate in order to obtain the legal authority to manage and distribute an estate.

However, in the case of a small estate that doesn’t involve any property, or consists of jointly owned property, and amounts to less than £5000, applying for probate is not usually required. Although, it’s a good idea to find out whether whoever holds the assets in question (like a bank, for example) has a probate threshold for allowing access.

This is an important step to get right. If you’re not granted probate for an estate where it is required, the assets in question will be frozen. So, if you’re unsure, it’s sensible to seek advice from a wills and probate solicitor.

If you do need to apply for probate, there are two options available, depending on your status.

  1. Executors: Someone who has been made an executor of a will should apply for a grant of probate.
  2. Administrators: When dealing with an estate of someone who died intestate, who did not appoint an executor in their will or who chose executors who refuse to act, you can become an administrator by applying for a grant of letters of administration. Spouses, civil partners and children of the deceased are eligible to apply, but it should be noted that common law partners have no automatic right to do so.

Dealing with the formalities

Once you have confirmed you have the legal authority to do so, you can begin the estate administration process. Depending on the size and complexity of the estate, this can involve a wide range of tasks, including:

  • Registering the death
  • Listing the assets
  • Collecting all the official documentation and information needed to administer the estate
  • Arranging the funeral
  • Valuing and selling property
  • Setting up bank accounts for payments to the estate
  • Dealing with the deceased’s pension fund, banks, insurance companies etc.
  • Notifying and supplying the correct documentation to HMRC regarding Inheritance and Income Tax
  • Collecting money owed to the deceased
  • Identifying and paying outstanding debts
  • Calculating and paying solicitors and probate fees owed by the estate
  • Closing accounts and cancelling utilities, benefit payments etc.
  • Redirecting or stopping postal deliveries
  • Distributing assets to beneficiaries

This is by no means an exhaustive list – the role of executor or administrator can potentially involve a lot of work. If you’re dealing with a small estate or are used to administrative tasks, it may be possible to handle everything yourself. However, if there are complex assets, the estate is insolvent or you simply feel overwhelmed by the prospect, it’s a good idea to seek specialist advice.

At Rowberry Morris, we understand that complex administration at an emotional time can be difficult. If you need assistance with handling an estate, our experienced solicitors are here to help. We’re happy to guide you through the process or deal with the formalities on your behalf.

If you’d like to know more about how we can assist you, please get in touch with your nearest Rowberry Morris office in Reading, Tadley, Staines or Richmond. During this time, we’re following all social distancing guidelines to keep our staff and customers safe and are able to work remotely. Please follow the link for more on our current Covid-19 working policy.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.