After the Funeral

After the funeral, it’s time to sort out the possessions, property and money owned by the person who has died, as well as any debts they may have left.

This guide is here to answer your questions about the will and the estate, and what to do if there is no will. The information here applies to England and Wales; for current practice in Scotland, click here ; for Northern Ireland, find help and advice here .

The estate

The estate is a broad term used to describe the property, money and possessions owned by the person who has died.

The estate includes:

  • money, including cash and any funds in bank or building society accounts
  • sums paid out on a life insurance policy
  • money owed by somebody else to the person who has died
  • stocks and shares, premium bonds, National Savings Certificates
  • property, for example their home
  • personal possessions

If the person who has died owes money to other people, this is deducted from the estate. This may include:

  • credit cards
  • bank loans
  • utility bills
  • council tax
  • outstanding rent or mortgage

The estate of the person who has died is usually passed to relatives and friends, according to the instructions contained in the will. If the person died and did not leave a will, they are said to have died intestate. In this case, the estate is dealt with according to the rules of intestacy.

The will

A will is an expression of the wishes of the person who has died. It is their written, signed and witnessed record of what they want to happen after they die, and how they want their possessions, property and money to be distributed. It is a legal document.

Most people keep their will in a safe place at home, or with their solicitor.

The will usually records who its maker wants to deal with the estate. This person is referred to as the executor or the personal representative. The executor may be a legal professional such as a solicitor, or the next of kin, or another member of the family. There can be more than one executor.

An executor may have to apply for a special legal authority known as Grant of Representation before they can deal with the estate. This authority is called probate, and entitles the executor to access things such as the person’s bank accounts. In most cases, the executor cannot start sharing out the estate or take money from it until probate is in place.

It’s important to remember that not every estate needs to be the subject of a Grant of Representation. You don’t need to apply if:

  • the estate does not include land, property or shares
  • the estate is worth less than £5,000
  • there is not enough money in the estate to pay any outstanding debts, taxes and expenses
  • the estate is held in joint names; in this case, the estate will pass to the surviving spouse or civil partner

If the nominated executor is unwilling or unable to act, that person can appoint someone else to apply for probate. The nominated executor can also renounce all responsibility to act, and someone else can then apply for Letters of Administration; that person becomes the administrator of the estate.

What an executor does

The prime responsibility of the executor is to make sure the estate is distributed according to the wishes of the person who has died. This brings many responsibilities, which can last for weeks, months or even years. If you are the executor of the will, you will need to,

  • Organise a valuation of the estate
  • Find out about any debts or money owed
  • Apply for probate
  • Once you have obtained probate, pay the creditors of the person who has died out of the estate
  • Distribute the estate according to the wishes expressed in the will

It’s a good idea to open a separate bank account to avoid any confusion between your own finances and funds from the estate.

It may be worth considering engaging a solicitor to help with applying for probate and administering the estate, especially if there are complex issues to be resolved or if Inheritance Tax needs to be paid. You can find a local solicitor who specialises in probate by visiting the Law Society website. Legal fees can be paid out of the estate.

For a comprehensive guide to the executor’s roles and responsibilities, view or download Age UK’s How to be an Executor . You can also contact your local Citizens’ Advice Bureau, or contact the Direct Community Free Legal Service . You can find out if you qualify for Legal Aid by calling the Civil Legal Advice (CLA) service on 0845 345 4345.

If there is no will

If a person dies without leaving a will, they are said to have died intestate. In this case, the rules of intestacy apply and a person is appointed to administer the estate. That person will usually be the closest living relative or next-of-kin. The order of responsibility is:

  • Surviving spouse or registered civil partner
  • Children over the age of 18
  • Parents
  • Brothers or sisters (shared parentage)
  • Half-brothers and half-sisters (one parent in common)
  • Grandparents
  • Uncles or aunts

If there are no surviving relatives, the estate goes to the Crown.

Once you’ve established who will be responsible for dealing with the estate, that person will need to apply for Letters of Administration (similar to the Grant of Administration).

Probate

This can be a bewildering process, particularly when you may be struggling to cope with the loss of someone near to you. Fortunately, there are plenty of agencies, professionals and non-profit organisations you can call on for help.

This part of the guide sets out what probate is, how to obtain it, and what to do next. We’ve included links to further information and places to go for help.

What probate means

When someone dies, you may find yourself dealing with some unfamiliar words and terms. At its simplest, probate is a process by which the debts owed by someone who has died are paid, and the remainder of the estate is distributed to the beneficiaries named in the will.

An executor needs to apply for a probate to manage and administer the estate. There are three steps:


1. Valuing the estate 2. Applying for a Grant of Representation 3. Administering the estate once a Grant of Probate has been sent

Valuing the estate

Before you apply for probate, the estate must be valued. The final valuation figure will include:

  • Property or land owned here and overseas
  • Household possessions, such as furniture
  • Jewellery, antiques and collectibles
  • Car, caravan or other vehicles
  • Shares, pensions and life insurance payouts
  • Money in bank and savings accounts
  • Business assets
  • You will need to have some assets valued professionally. You can research the value of others, such as furniture and cars, by finding out what today’s values are and basing the valuation on those figures.

    Sometimes, it isn’t obvious what accounts were held by the person who has died. If you think there may be funds in other accounts, you can track them down using a free service called Find My Account . This service draws together the tracing schemes run by the British Bankers Association, the Building Societies Association and National Savings and Investments. It may take time to establish what, if any, accounts were held; allow for about three months.

    If the value of the estate comes to £325,000 or more and has not been left to a surviving husband, wife or civil partner, Inheritance Tax has to be paid before probate can be obtained. This can be partial or full payment. You may want to seek the advice of a tax accountant; you can find a specialist tax adviser at the Chartered Institute of Taxation . Read more about Inheritance Tax and how to pay it on the HMRC website .

    Joint assets (such as property) and joint bank accounts don’t form part of the estate if you were married to or in a civil partnership with the person who has died.

    Applying for a Grant of Representation

    You can apply for a Grant of Representation online here , or call in at your local Probate Registry . You can also call the helpline on 0300 123 1072.

    The application form is called PA1. You will need to include:

    • The original will
    • The Death Certificate
    • An application fee (£105) if the estate is valued at £5,000 or more
    • The valuation of the estate
    • The amount of money owed to the person who has died
    • The amount owed by the person who has died

    Before returning the form, either by post or in person, be sure to keep a copy and take copies of the original documents.

    You’ll be contacted with a date and time for an interview at your local Probate Registry. The purpose of the interview is for you to confirm your identity and then swear an oath that the information you have provided is true, to the best of your knowledge. You’ll be given the opportunity to ask any questions before you swear the oath.

    You will need to take several documents with you relating to the estate. This may include bank statements, share certificates, information about any debts, and insurance policy documents. You will also need to take along some identification, ideally a passport or driving licence.

    If you have appointed a solicitor to handle the estate, you won’t need to attend an interview.

    Administering the estate

    After the interview, the Probate Registry will write to you. This letter will set out the value of the estate before any debts have been paid (the gross value) and the value of the estate after debts have been settled (the net value). You will also receive a copy of the will, which will be stamped to show it is an official copy; once probate is granted, the original becomes a public record.

    Once the grant of representation has been issued, you should send a copy of the grant to any organisations that are holding assets of the estate (for example, the person’s bank). They will release the assets so that they can be transferred into the executor’s account. The executor will then:

    • Gather physical possessions such as cash and jewellery
    • Settle any debts such as unpaid utility bills or bank loans
    • Pay any taxes owed
    • Settle any legal fees

    The balance of the estate can then be shared with the beneficiaries, in keeping with the wishes expressed in the will.

    Claiming bereavement benefits

    The loss of someone near to you can affect your income, and you may be concerned about how you’re going to manage. These may be short-term worries while the estate is being sorted out, or longer-term financial anxieties. Fortunately there is help available, as well as many sources of advice and information. This part of the guide sets out what benefits you may be able to claim, how to manage finances and debts, and who to turn to for help.

    Bereavement benefits

    There are three benefits you may be able to claim after someone dies. Claiming one of these may affect the amount of other benefits you receive.

    Bereavement payment

    This is a one-off, tax-free payment of £2,000 and should be claimed within 12 months of the death. You can claim the payment if:

    • Your partner paid the right amount of NICs
    • You were married or in a civil partnership
    • You were below the state retirement age when your partner died
    • You are above the state retirement age and your partner was not entitled to a state pension
    • Your partner died as a result of a work-related accident or disease (NICs are disregarded in this case)

    This is a one-off payment. The claim can be backdated up to 12 months. It will be treated as savings if you claim any other benefits.

    Bereavement allowance

    This is a weekly payment that can be claimed if you meet the following criteria:

    • You are over 45 and below the state retirement age
    • You were married to or in a civil partnership with the person who has died
    • You’re not living with anyone else as if you are married
    • You don’t have children living at home
    • Your partner made National Insurance contributions (NICs)
    • Your partner died as a result of a work-related accident or disease

    The payment is made for up to 52 weeks after the death, and is calculated according to your age and the amount of NICs your partner made. You can only claim this if you’re note receiving Widowed Parent’s Allowance.

    Widowed Parent’s Allowance (WPA)

    If you are receiving child benefit for at least one child, you may be able to claim Widowed Parent’s allowance if,

    • You are below the state retirement age
    • Your partner was the parent of the child or children
    • Your partner made the right amount of NICs
    • Your partner died as a result of a work-related accident or disease (NICs are disregarded in this case)

    The allowance is paid weekly for as long as you receive child benefit. If this comes to less than 52 weeks, you may be able to claim the Bereavement Allowance for the rest of the year once the Widowed Parent’s Allowance ends.

    Other benefits

    If you are on a low income and don’t have significant savings, you may be entitled to claim other means-tested benefits such as Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support and Housing Benefit. You may also be able to claim a reduction in Council Tax.

    The best thing is not to struggle alone. Talk to your local Benefits Agency and district or borough council. You can also find out more by visiting www.gov.uk/browse/benefits/bereavement, or by using the Benefits Adviser tool on the same site.

    Another source of help is the Turn2Us charity, which has been set up to help people in financial need. You can use the Benefits Calculator on their website, or talk to an adviser on 0808 802 2000.

    The Citizens’ Advice Bureau has comprehensive guidance and information on benefits. Make an appointment at your local office to talk to a trained adviser, or visit their website.

    FAQs

    What is the estate?

    Everything that was owned by a person – property, money and personal possessions – is known as their estate.

    Who pays any outstanding debts left by someone who has died?

    These are paid out of the estate.

    What happens to the estate?

    The estate of the person who has died is usually passed to relatives and friends according to the wishes and instructions contained in the will.

    What if there is no will?

    The nearest relative or next of kin will usually be appointed to administer the estate. In order of priority, this means: the husband, wife or civil partner; children over 18; parents; siblings; half-brothers or half-sisters; grandparents; uncles and aunts.

    What is a Grant of Representation?

    This is a collective term that covers grant of probate or letters of administration. It is legal proof that the executor or personal representative is entitled to deal with the estate. You don’t need this if the estate is held in joint names, is valued at £5,000 or less, or does not include property, land or shares.

    When can I apply for probate?

    Once the estate has been valued. You may need to engage the services of professionals to help value land, property or business assets.

    Do I need a solicitor to help with probate?

    No. Many people manage the process themselves. In some cases, however, it’s advisable to seek legal help for more complicated estates or if Inheritance Tax is involved.

    What estates are liable to Inheritance Tax?

    Estates valued at £325,000 and over. There are several ways to pay; talk to your solicitor or check the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) website. You may also want to seek the advice of a tax accountant.

    What happens to a joint bank account or a jointly-owned property?

    If you are the husband, wife or civil partner of the person who has died, jointly held accounts and property do not form part of the estate. Instead, these usually pass straight to the partner.

    How long does it take to obtain probate?

    It varies. In straightforward cases, it can be around three months. If Inheritance Tax has to be paid, or in the case of a complex estate, it can up to nine months or longer.

    What happens once I have obtained probate?

    You can start to administer the estate. Once any creditors owed money by the person who has died have been paid, you can start to share out the estate according to the wishes expressed in the will.

    What benefits am I entitled to claim if I’m struggling financially?

    There are several benefits that can be paid after bereavement. The Bereavement Payment is a one-off payment of £2,000; the Bereavement Allowance and Widowed Parent’s Allowance are weekly payments for up to 52 weeks after someone has died. You won’t be able to claim both of these weekly payments.

    Can I still claim other benefits?

    Yes. The amounts you receive may be affected by the bereavement payments. Visit your local Benefits Agency or Jobcentre Plus to see what help is available.

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