When someone dies, there are many decisions to be made at an already difficult time more burdensome. We’ve summarised some of the main tasks:
- Registering the death
Unless the Coroner needs to become involved, most deaths should be registered within 5 days. There are various categories of persons who are allowed to register the death but this is usually done by the next of kin or the person organising the funeral.
To register the death, you will need to make an appointment at the local Registry Office. You will be asked to bring certain information with you so that the death can be properly recorded:
- The deceased’s full name and usual address
- Their date and place of birth
- Their occupation
- Their date and place of death
- If appropriate, the maiden name and full name and occupation of their spouse
The registrar will give you a form to hand to the funeral director giving him permission to proceed with the burial or cremation. They will also give you a form to be forwarded to the Department for Work and Pensions to cancel further payment of any state benefits.
The Registry Office also offer the Tell Us Once service – a Government phoneline to call which provides notification of the death automatically to a number of Government departments and agencies such as the Department for Work & Pensions, HM Revenue and Customs, the DVLA, the Passport Agency, most public sector pension funds and the deceased’s local Council.
The death certificate itself costs £4.00 per copy at the time of registration but if you need to go back for further copies in the future the cost increases to £11.00.
- Find a copy of the Will
The deceased may have made their funeral wishes known but if not then their Will may contain guidance. Most people keep a copy of their will at home while the original is held by their solicitor.
Look through the deceased’s paperwork for their copy. If nothing is found you should check with any legal advisors they have used in the past to see if they are holding a will for them.
You should also check to see who the Will appoints to deal with the administration of the estate (known as the Executor). If this is not you, then you should contact them as they will be responsible for arranging the funeral. If there is no Will, the law specifies who can administer the estate and who inherits the estate so you may want to take legal advice at this point.
- Funeral arrangements
Make an appointment to see a funeral director. The deceased’s bank will issue a cheque (provided there is enough money in the accounts) to pay the funeral costs.
- Secure the home
Secure the house and its contents. If the deceased lived alone, you will need to contact the house insurer to ensure that the building and contents cover continues and remove any valuables.
- Contact your professional advisor
When you are ready, take all of the financial paperwork to your professional advisor, who can then begin to administer the estate.
Administration of the Estate
Whilst much of the Estate Administration process is of a routine nature, it is nevertheless essential that all Executors should have a reasonable knowledge of the laws applicable in this area. This is necessary if they are to do their job properly and also to reduce the risk of becoming personally liable for mistakes made in the administration process.
Personal liability for the Executor can arise for various reasons – eg, failing to safeguard valuable assets, not observing the statutory order for the payment of the deceased’s debts, incorrect reporting of the Estate’s tax position to HM Revenue and Customs, paying the wrong amounts to beneficiaries etc.
The law does provide a partial defence to such conduct if it can be shown that the Executor acted ‘honestly and reasonably and ought fairly to be excused the breach’ but the best approach is to avoid such issues arising in the first place.
Some of the duties and responsibilities that that the Executor needs to consider include:
- Collecting in and safeguarding all assets
- Establishing whether or not an estate is solvent or bankrupt
- Establishing and paying all debts & liabilities in accordance with the order laid down by statute
- Administering the estate with due diligence and without unnecessary delay
To do this effectively may include the need to:
- Locate known creditors and beneficiaries and advertise for unknown creditors
- Identify anyone who may be entitled to make a claim against the estate either due to being left out of the will or because they have not been left as much as they expected.
- Obtain valuations of assets where necessary
- Instigate legal proceedings where necessary – eg, to recover assets
- Interpret the will and distribute the legacies in accordance with its terms
- If there are insufficient funds left to pay all the legacies in the will, then some of those gifts will fail either in full or in part and the Executor must make the necessary calculations
- Ascertain all tax liabilities and complete and submit the necessary returns to HM Revenue and Customs. This usually extends to Inheritance Tax, Capital Gains tax and Income Tax.
Before finalising the estate the Executor should check the Inheritance Tax position to ensure that the value of the estate that reported to HM Revenue and Customs is still accurate. There are specific forms to complete for these purposes and you may need professional advice to ensure they are correctly completed.
If assets are transferred to a beneficiary in kind then the proper formalities for transferring them must be observed and the correct documentation completed.
The Executor needs to account to the beneficiaries in the will at the end of the administration. Estate accounts must be drawn up showing them how the administration has been conducted and how the final inheritance has been calculated. The beneficiaries should be asked to approve the accounts.