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Practical Guide to Probate

When someone dies, there is so much going on that often a ‘checklist’ can prove useful just to confirm that everything is covered. Some aspects have time limits and so the better prepared you are, the easier it will be to help in organising what needs to be done.

Initially, it is worth finding out if the deceased had a valid Will at the date of death either at home, with a firm of solicitors or a will writing company. A valid Will appoints Executors who would ordinarily take on these responsibilities. They can also look through the deceased’s personal papers to find the basic information that will be required.

Registration of the death

The medical certificate signed by the doctor with the cause of death will be needed. The following documents and information are also useful:

  • Date & place of birth
  • Birth Certificate
  • Marriage/civil partnership certificate
  • NHS number/NHS medical card
  • Full name & surname of deceased 
  • Date & place of death & usual address
  • If the deceased was a child the occupation of his/her father or mother if unmarried will be required
  • Occupation of the deceased (if a wife/widow or husband/widower then the occupation of their spouse)
  • Maiden name if appropriate
  • Name & address of the deceased’s GP
  • Details of any pension other than the state pension that the deceased received
  • Correspondence regarding benefits; tax credits; state pensions or child benefits
  • Proof of your relationship to the deceased such as marriage certificate; or birth certificate.
  • Your social security card/National Insurance number if you want to claim or change benefits for you.

1. Funeral Arrangements

You will need the death certificate before you can arrange the funeral. Check any copy Will that you find or other personal papers to see if the deceased has a pre-paid funeral plan or any particular preference for a ceremony.

If the funeral account needs to be paid in full or in part, it is worthwhile seeing if there are sufficient funds available in a bank or building society account. Most banks or building societies, when presented with the funeral account even before the grant of representation, will pay this bill if there are sufficient funds available or as much as they have available in the deceased’s account. This can help with cash flow at this difficult time.

2. Utilities & Insurance

It is important to review insurance policies for the buildings, contents and any vehicles that were in the name of the deceased. A phone call may be enough to transfer the insurance to the name of a surviving spouse or registered civil partner but otherwise you may need to give the details of the Executors as appointed by a Will. If there is no Will then it will depend on those persons who have taken on the responsibility of acting in the estate administration (see our intestacy fact sheet).

3. Finances

When someone dies it is a harsh reality that everything that they own in their sole name or assets in which they have an interest – i.e. they own half or they have a right to enjoy something under a trust or perhaps receive the income, then all of these assets and rights to assets have to be valued as at the date of death.

It is worthwhile looking through personal papers of the deceased for the following basic papers:

  • Bank/building society account statements or passbooks
  • Credit card statements
  • Utility bills / other bills 
  • Vehicle ownership papers
  • Share certificates
  • National Savings Certificates/Premium bonds
  • Tax papers – this could be a last statement from HM Revenue & Customs or just a letter from them
  • Pension papers or letters
  • Accounts or other papers regarding a business or farm

If there is a property or an interest in a property then the property will need to be valued as at the date of death based on the market value.

Inheritance Tax?

The estate of the deceased may be sufficiently large that Inheritance Tax (IHT) is payable – i.e. if you look at the estate in the last 7 years and add up the gifts made from the estate and the total of the assets as at the date of death and there is more than £325,000 in value then there is potentially IHT payable. IF there is a surviving spouse or registered civil partner then there may be an exemption so no IHT is payable, but you need to consider this as there are time limits when the IHT is to be paid. Tax regarding liquid assets – such as savings, shares, premium bonds and investments – must be paid within 6 months from the end of the month of death. Tax regarding land, buildings or business or agricultural assets needs to be paid within 12 months of the end of the month of death. If there is IHT to be paid then this must be paid BEFORE you can apply for the Grant of Representation.

Grant of Representation

If the deceased had a valid Will appointing Executors, then the Executors will apply for a Grant of Probate. If the deceased died without a valid Will then an application must be made for Letters of Administration and the Administrators will (once they have the Court’s authority) be able to deal with the estate administration in the same manner as the Executors.

A personal application for a Grant of Representation would require a personal appearance by the Executor/Administrator at the Probate Registry with the necessary documentation. However, we can make the application on your behalf by post and remove this inconvenience for you.

Please feel free to contact Trudy Rogers on 01635 569670 or for any further information regarding our estate administration services.