What to do about the Will
If there is a Will you may find a copy in the person’s papers. You should always enquire with their solicitor, bank or financial adviser who may have been involved in the making of the Will or are keeping it in safe custody. It is also essential to verify with these firms that any Will or copy of the Will discovered in the person’s papers, is the last known Will.
You can also check with certainty.co.uk
Once you have established who is holding the last know Will, the executors named in the Will can be contacted and can start their task of dealing with the estate. This will be different with each estate. At first glance this can seem complicated, so we’ve explained how things normally work.
The personal representatives
Wills usually name one or more people who have been asked to make sure that any wishes are carried out and that all the financial affairs are settled. These people are called executors if there is a Will, or administrators if there’s no Will. Personal representative is a term that refers to both.
In many cases, if the deceased leaves assets worth £5,000 or more solely in their name, it’s necessary to go through a legal process known as probate.
Probate is a legal document granted to the executors that allows them to make and receive payments from the estate of the person who has died. If there is a Will, you’ll need a grant of probate from the Probate Registry. If there’s no Will (intestacy), you’ll need a legal document called grant of letters of administration, granting equivalent powers to the administrator. Grant of representation is a term to cover both types of document.
In Scotland this process is called confirmation, and is required whether the deceased died testate or intestate.
Most probate cases take between 6 to 9 months to complete. If the estate is simple the case can be completed in perhaps 2 months.
What’s involved in the administration process?
- This is what the personal representatives must do to administer the estate:
- Pay the funeral director’s fees and the disbursement fees on behalf of the estate
- Make an inventory of everything in the estate. The personal representative will need to write to all the asset and liability holders to confirm values at the date of death, including income, interests or dividends received and of any tax deducted in the last year. Assets include money in bank accounts, savings, investments, insurance policies, property and other possessions
- Ensure that the house and/or other property of the deceased is secured and valuable items are insured
- Identify the beneficiaries
- Establish if the estate is solvent and if there are sufficient funds to pay all the beneficiaries in full
- Complete the necessary forms to apply for the grant and assessment of tax liability
- Arrange for the Inheritance Tax to be paid on behalf of the estate, if due
- Arrange for the oath to be sworn and the forms sent to the Probate Registry to apply for the grant on behalf of the estate
- Present the grant to asset holders and collect all assets due
- Place the statutory advertisements for creditors in the London Gazette and local paper as appropriate
- Complete the Income Tax return and Capital Gains Tax forms as appropriate
- Pay all debts and complete all stock and share transfer forms
- If there is a property, arrange the sale or transfer to the beneficiaries
- Prepare and send the estate accounts to the executors and/or residuary beneficiaries to approve, sign and return
- Set up and, if necessary, administer any trusts or life interests created within the Will or by statute
- Distribute the assets of the estate
What happens if there isn’t a Will (an intestacy)
If the person hasn’t left a Will, the law says they have died intestate. This means that the assets and money must be distributed according to the laws of intestacy. Someone will need to act as an administrator to deal with the estate and distribute everything to the beneficiaries. Whilst the right to act as administrator will usually fall to those entitled to the estate under the intestacy provisions, they may not be willing or able to act or may prefer to use a professional to for this on their behalf. If any individuals entitled under the intestacy rules have died, their share of the inheritance will usually pass to their children. However, children can only receive their inheritance when they are 18. Adopted and illegitimate children are included, but not step-children (unless they are legally adopted).
One of the most important jobs is informing all the people and organisations who need to know that the person has died. The following list, although not exhaustive, may be useful:
Who needs to know
Depending on the circumstances, that may be:
- Family members and friends. Putting an announcement in the local paper is a good way to reach people you may not know
- Their employer (or former employer) and (former) work colleagues
- Their doctor and other health professionals. You may also need to check if they were attending a hospital clinic or were on a waiting list for an operation
- Banks and building societies
- Mortgage, pension, investment and insurance companies
- Credit and store card providers
- The home insurance company, who will have certain requirements if the property is empty
- Utilities companies, such as gas, electricity, water, telephone and mobile phone suppliers
- The local council, for council tax, social services and electoral register
- Any school, college or university they were attending
- The car insurance company. If you were insured under the person’s policy, you’ll no longer be covered
- The housing department, if they had a council house
- The National Registration Service, if the person was a business partner
- Share registrars
- The social services, if the person was receiving Meals on Wheels, had a home help, or used other services
- Royal Mail to redirect mail
Are you entitled to any benefits?
Now things have changed you may be entitled to extra help, particularly if your partner had died. The rules can be complicated, but your local Jobcentre Plus, social security office of Citizens Advice Bureau will give you the information you need or contact the Pensions Service if you are receiving state pension.
You may also be entitled to inherit some or all of your partner’s pension, Incapacity Benefit or Industrial Injuries Disablement benefit. Again, ask at your Jobcentre Plus or social security office. The Pensions Service will handle any state pensions.
Now things have changed you may need to update your Will. Making the changes now will ensure that everything’s easier for your family and friends and that your wishes are carried out. Here are some pointers to help you:
- If you have a partner but are not married or in a civil partnership, you have no legal right to inherit from each other, so it’s especially important to make your wishes clear in a Will
- If you’re in a business partnership your Will should say who you want to inherit your share. The law says that a partnership should be automatically dissolved if a partner dies; making a Will can prevent this
- If you get (re)married, or enter into a civil partnership, you will need to make a new Will as the old one will usually become invalid (unless made in contemplation of a specified marriage or formation of a specified civil partnership). If you divorce, or on dissolution or termination of a civil partnership, any reference to the former spouse or civil partner will usually be ignored so you should make a new Will to make your wishes clear
- Subject to certain exemptions and reliefs, inheritance tax must be paid on everything over the Inheritance Tax threshold (£325,000 for the tax year 2010/11). However you can limit the amount your loved ones have to pay.