How to handle an estate after death
A guide to dealing with the estate of a deceased person
The death of someone triggers a series of legal obligations which are often time-sensitive and must be carried out within the letter of the law. In most cases, these duties are straightforward and assumed by the surviving spouse or heirs. In some cases, however, it may be better to consider the services of an independent legal provider.
This guide explains the legal terminology and the basic tasks involved in handling an estate after death.
Legal terms when handling an estate
There are a number of legal terms which are used in relation to dealing with the estate of someone who is deceased. If you are involved in it, you need to be familiar with some of the following:
- Administrator - someone who is appointed to administer the estate if there is no Will or the appointed executor can’t carry out their duties.
- Assets - real estate, cars, possessions, investments, money or anything else owned by a deceased person.
- Beneficiary - a person who is entitled to receive property, money, gifts or other assets from the estate.
- Estate - the money, possessions and property of a deceased person.
- Executor - someone who is appointed in the Will to administer the estate of a deceased person.
- Grant of Probate (Grant of Representation) - the legal document which allows someone to administer the Will of a deceased person.
- Intestacy - the state of having died without leaving a valid Will.
- Letters of Administration - a legal document which grants the legal permission to deal with the estate of a deceased person.
- Last Will and Testament (Will) - a legal document which specifies how a person’s estate is distributed at their death.
- Probate - the right to deal with the estate of a deceased person.
- Rules of Intestacy - Inheritance Laws.
Before you begin handling an estate
Handling the estate of someone who is deceased can be a lengthy and stressful process. Although the following tips are not likely to decrease the amount of work you need to do, they can save you some time and stress.
Get some legal advice and practical guidance
Before you do anything else, it’s worth spending some time to familiarise yourself with the process and your responsibilities. You may wish to consult with a lawyer who is qualified to advise you on such matters.
If that seems like too much work on top of everything else, consider our Legal Services membership package. Among other benefits, it includes a 24 hour legal advice helpline.
Order multiple copies of the Death Certificate
Most of the institutions and companies concerned with the estate of the deceased person require to see an original copy of the Death Certificate. You can speed up the process of dealing with them by notifying more than one at the time. Make sure to order multiple copies of the Death Certificate when you first register the death.
To find out how to obtain a Death Certificate, please read our guide on how to register a death.
Next steps when dealing with an estate
Usually there are two scenarios in dealing with an estate after death, depending on whether or not the deceased person left a will.
If there is a will
The will lays out wishes and particular instructions in regards to the estate and its distribution. It should also include the names of the executors - the person or persons responsible for administering the will.
If you are a named executor, you need to apply for Grant of Probate which is the legal document you need in order to deal with the estate. You can apply to the Probate Registry directly or hire a solicitor. It takes a week to 10 days for your application to be processed and between four to 10 weeks to be approved, providing that there are no further queries or complications.
Read the full guide: What to do when someone dies with a will
If there is no will
If someone dies without leaving a valid will, it means that they have died intestate. In such cases the estate is distributed according to the Rules of Intestacy or the Inheritance Law.
The person who deals with the estate is called an administrator and they have to be appointed by the Court. They then need to apply for Letters of Administrators (issued by the Probate Registry) which grants them the legal permission to deal with the estate.
Although the administrator can be a family member, relative or a close friend, it’s worth consulting a lawyer as the Inheritance Laws can be quite complicated.
Read the full guide: What to do when someone dies without a will
Please visit our Legal Services page for more information on how we are able to help you in dealing with these matters.
If you are an executor or administrator, you are legally obliged to pay off any debts and outstanding payments before you distribute the estate. You can use money from the estate to do that.
The current tax-free allowance which is also known as the nil band rate is £325,000 in the UK. If the estate’s value exceeds that number, you need to pay 40% tax.
The tax-free allowance is increased to £425,000 if the home is left to children or grandchildren. If the estate is left to the spouse or civil partner, there is no Inheritance Tax to be paid.
Please note that this is quite a complicated part of the probate process and you should consider legal advice.
Who to notify after a death
When someone dies, you need to notify certain Government Departments, banks, mortgage providers etc.
Please refer to our guide on who to notify after a death for a full list of the organisations which need to be notified as soon as possible.
Although the rules and regulations regarding the handling of an estate after death are meant to assist you, you still need to do the work for it. Be prepared to deal with relatives and family members who might be keen to push their own ideas about distributing the estate.
It is a legal responsibility which requires you to follow specific rules and regulations. If you decide to hire a solicitor to advice you or carry on the work, you should know that their fees are paid for by the estate.
Don’t forget that we offer a Legal Services Package which includes a 24 hours legal advice helpline.
Has someone passed away?
Your local Funeral Director will be able to arrange for your loved one to be collected and brought into their care at the soonest available time.
They'll guide you every step of the way, from the moment your loved one passes away to making all of the necessary funeral arrangements.
Search for your local Funeral Director
Contributed by Mark Welkin
Mark Welkin is the author of three grief books and a journalist who has worked for various media outlets in Europe and Asia. He lost his long-term partner in 2014 and a few months later, Mark turned to a grief counsellor for help. The results inspired him to share his experience and help other bereaved people to resume life after the loss of their loved ones.