Continuing our series of articles giving practical help and advice to deal with some of the more difficult aspects of life we are now looking at what needs to be done when someone passes away.
If the death was unexpected, you should dial 999 and ask for an ambulance and police immediately. You will be told what to do by the operator to establish whether you can try and resuscitate the person. The paramedics will carry out resuscitation or will confirm the death. Leave the area untouched apart from any attempt at resuscitation.
If the death was expected, perhaps due to a terminal illness, you should contact the deceased’s GP or nearest doctor. If it happened during the night, you do not need to contact the doctor until the following morning unless you want to.
If the cause of death is known and from natural causes, the doctor will issue the documents to allow you to register the death.
The police will arrange for the body to be moved by a Funeral Director acting for the Coroner if the death is unexpected. If a doctor has confirmed an expected death you may call a Funeral Director of your own choice when you are ready to do so. Funeral directors provide service any time of day or night to move the deceased to a funeral home.
Once the deceased has been removed and any Police examinations complete you should secure the home, this is especially important if they lived alone. Consider removing valuable items such as Jewellery, Documentation, Bank Cards and Cash if you feel they would be more secure in your custody. These will all need to be passed to the person responsible for making the final arrangements.
If the doctor is unsure about the actual cause of death even if it was clearly from natural causes, or if the deceased died suddenly and had not been under a doctor’s care during the past 14 days, or if the death is unnatural, they will contact the Coroner (or Procurator Fiscal in Scotland). The Coroner or Procurator Fiscal may order a post-mortem examination to determine the cause of death and then issue the documents allowing the death to be registered.
Register the Death
The death must be registered by the registrar – Within 5 days in England, Wales and Northern Ireland or within 8 days in Scotland. In England and Wales, it is possible to delay registration for a further 9 days provided that the Registrar receives written confirmation that the medical cause of death certificate has been signed by a doctor. Hospitals will usually send the certificate direct to the Registrar and advise you when this has been done so you can make an appointment with the Registrar.
The registration should be made in the district in which the death occurred in England unless the death has occurred in a county that has adopted a county-wide system.
If you are completely unable to attend a registrar in the district (or county) in England in which the death occurred you can attend elsewhere and carry out a declaration of the death. You should be aware that the issue of the Death Certificate will be delayed as documents must be sent between the registrars in the post. In Scotland, the registration may be done at any Scottish registration office.
Most Registrars operate appointment systems. Some operate an emergency out-of-office hours service for families needing urgent burial for any reason. Telephone your main council switchboard to find out if there is an out-of-hours service. Many Registrars now also offer an online booking system – search under Deaths on your local council website.
In general, registration of the death should be carried out before the funeral can go ahead. Exceptions are deaths subject to investigation by the Coroner. Permission for burial may also be issued before full registration in certain circumstances but this is not possible if cremation is planned.
Between the death and the registration, you should attempt to locate all the essential paperwork relating to the deceased, as you will see below the Registrar is the first in a line of people who will need to review this documentation.
Aside from the documentation detailed below, you should look out for any documents relating to Funeral Directors or pre-paid arrangements. You should also look for a copy of the Last Will and Testament or any clue as to the Solicitors that the deceased may have used.
It is useful to contact a Funeral Director as soon as possible, they can start to make arrangements even before the death is registered and provide a great deal of support and advice to the bereaved.
You should also carry your own forms of identity when managing the affairs of the deceased as you will often need to prove who you are.
The Registrar may also want to see the person’s:
- Birth Certificate
- Council Tax bill
- Driving Licence
- Marriage or Civil Partnership Certificate
- NHS Medical Card
- Proof of Address (eg utility bill).
Ask the Registrar what to do if you do not have them when you make the appointment. During the Registration of the death, You will need to tell the registrar:
- The deceased full name at the time of death
- Any names previously used, eg maiden name
- Date and place of birth
- Their last address
- Their occupation
- Full name, date of birth and occupation of a surviving or late spouse or civil partner
- Whether they were getting a State Pension or any other benefits.
Once the death is registered you will get two important documents: The Certificate of Registration of a Death (Death Certificate) and a Certificate for Burial or Cremation, known as the ‘Green Form’.
The Green Form needs to be passed to the Funeral Director/service.
- The Death Certificate will need certified copies made to send to various bodies.
- You can purchase one or two additional certificates at the time of registration. However, if you are going to visit the deceased bank then the officials there can make you certified copies free of charge.
Useful weblink: https://www.gov.uk/register-a-death
Contact the Funeral Director
If the deceased has already got arrangements in place the documentation will advise you how to contact them to commence the process. If no prior arrangements have been made you may have discussed what the deceased wanted prior to their passing but if not look through any Last Will and Testament in case they have left instructions within.
If a person has opted for a Direct Cremation funeral like the ones funded by the NCCF then you simply follow the instructions in the Direct Cremation package. You are then able to make any arrangements for a celebration of life event and ash scattering.
For help finding a Funeral Director try: https://beyond.life
Once you have the ‘Green Form’, Certificate for Burial or Cremation, pass this to the Funeral Director.
There are four groups of people and organisations you need to inform of the death:
- Government Departments
- Organisations the deceased had relations with
- Businesses Marketing
- Friends and Family.
The Government have a ‘Tell Us Once’ service which enables you to submit one notification to all the relevant Government Departments.
To use this service the Registrar will give you a unique reference number when you register the death, it is usually accompanied by an information sheet on how to use the service. With the unique reference number, you can easily submit the information online.
- Date of birth
- Date they died
- name, address and contact details of the person or company dealing with their estate (property, belongings and money), known as their ‘executor’ or ‘administrator’
- If there’s a surviving spouse or civil partner, the name, address, telephone number and the National Insurance number or date of birth of the spouse or civil partner
- If there’s no surviving spouse or civil partner or their spouse or civil partner is not able to deal with their affairs, the name and address of their next of kin
- If they died in a hospital, nursing home, care home or hospice, the name and address of that institution – you’ll also be asked if the stay was for 28 days or more.
- You may also need:
- If they had a passport, their passport number and town of birth
- If they had a driving licence, their driving licence number
- If they owned any vehicles, the vehicle registration numbers
- If they were getting services from their local council, such as Housing Benefit payments or Council Tax reductions, the name of their local council and which services they were getting
- If they were getting any benefits, tax credits or State Pensions, information about which ones they were getting
- If they were getting money from an Armed Forces Pension or Compensation Scheme, details of that scheme
- If they were getting money or paying into public sector pension schemes, details of those schemes
- If they were getting money or paying into Local Government Pension Schemes (LGPS), details of those schemes and their National Insurance number.
You need permission from any surviving spouse or civil partner, the next of kin, executor, administrator or anyone who was claiming joint benefits or entitlements with the person who died, before you give their details.
Tell Us Once will notify:
- HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) – to deal with personal tax and to cancel benefits and credits, for example, Child Benefits and tax credits (you need to contact HMRC separately for business taxes, like VAT)
- Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – to cancel benefits and entitlements, for example, Universal Credit or State Pension
- Passport Office – to cancel a British passport
- Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) – to cancel a licence, remove the person as the keeper of up to 5 vehicles and end the vehicle tax (you must contact DVLA separately if you either sell the vehicle or keep it and tax it in your own name)
- The local council – to cancel Housing Benefits, Council Tax Reduction (sometimes called Council Tax Support), a Blue Badge, inform council housing services and remove the person from the electoral register
- Veterans UK – to cancel or update Armed Forces Compensation Scheme payments
- Social Security Scotland – to cancel benefits and entitlements from the Scottish Government, for example; Scottish Child Payment
- HMRC and DWP will contact you about the tax, benefits and entitlements of the person who died.
- Tell Us Once will also contact some public sector pension schemes so that they cancel future pension payments. They’ll notify:
- My Civil Service Pension
- NHS Pensions for NHS staff in England and Wales
- Armed Forces Pension Scheme
- Scottish Public Pension Agency schemes for NHS staff, teachers, police and firefighters in Scotland
- Local Government Pension Schemes (LGPS).
Following the initial submission, some Government Departments may contact you to resolve any tax or payment issues.
Organisations the deceased had relations with
This covers all the other organisations like Banks, Insurance Companies, Pension Providers, Utility Companies etc.
Life Ledger Service
Luckily there is an internet-based service similar to ‘Tell Us Once‘. It’s called ‘Life Ledger’ and can inform over 1,000 UK companies, ranging from banks, insurers and pension providers to gas, water, telecoms and social media. You can track the progress of your notifications, directly contact the companies and upload required documents in one place.
Life Ledger really saves you time and takes away the stress of having to repeat yourself again and again. The other great thing about Life Ledger is that you can set up an account to store all your own information which makes things easier for your loved ones when you pass.
National Savings and Investments have a specific page for investigating and sorting any premium bonds the deceased may have held. https://forms.nsandi.com/gateway/online-forms/index#/form/bereavement
Stop Mail is a free service that has been developed by the Bereavement Support Network to help families and friends locate services and cancel unsolicited mail following a loss.
The Stop Mail service enters the details into a secure data bank. Any company wishing to send direct mail details of their products and services can check their mailing list against the information held on The Bereavement Register.
If the direct mail companies find any matches, they will remove the deceased’s details and stop sending them marketing communications. They are obliged to do this by law.
The information provided to Stop Mail is added to a mail suppression system to which over 3000 UK organisations subscribe. Many of these organisations are household names.
Typical users include financial institutions, mail-order companies, national retailers and charities.
Web Link: https://stopmail.co.uk
There are two other organisations offering a similar service, we are not sure of the total coverage or overlap of these alternatives however for the couple of minutes it takes to register on them it may be worthwhile.
Please note it can take up to six weeks for this type of mail to stop.
Settling the Estate
When someone dies, their estate (their money, property and assets) needs to be transferred to their heirs and any outstanding debts and taxes need to be paid.
A person may have appointed the Public Trustee as the executor of their estate to deal with the property and money after they die if:
- There’s no suitable person who’s willing and able to act as executor at that time, eg someone who’s over 18, isn’t bankrupt and doesn’t have a criminal conviction
- The person who will benefit from the will is vulnerable, eg a child or adult whose mental disability means they can’t manage their own finances and property
The Public Trustee can do most things that any other executor can do, such as apply for probate.
The Public Trustee can’t be an executor if:
- Executing the estate involves managing a business
- The estate is insolvent, eg the debts are more than the assets
- Is not named as the Public Trustee in the will.
The Public Trustee should have a copy of the Will and they’ll decide whether to accept the appointment following the death.
The Public Trustee
Post Point 0.53
102 Petty France
Probate or Administration
A grant of probate is a document that states that you are legally allowed to settle the estate of someone who has died. Once you’ve received it – or, if there is no will, a letter of administration – you’ll be able to access and close their bank accounts, give funds and property to whoever is set to inherit and pay off any outstanding tax and debts.
A grant of probate is not always required: if the total value of the estate is small, or accounts, property and assets were owned jointly, you can potentially settle the estate without one.
When do you need Probate?
So, when is probate required? The simple answer is that a grant of probate is needed in most cases, especially when land or property is involved, but it’s always worth taking a little more time to find out for certain.
Do I need Probate? A quick checklist:
When you’re trying to find out if you need probate, it can help to make a list of what was owned in the name of the person who has died. Here are a few things to think about:
- Did they have a bank account solely in their name, and how much is in it? Most banks will release all funds without a grant of probate if there is less than £5,000 in an account, and some will release up to £25,000 – the amount varies depending on the bank. You’ll need a grant of probate before you can access any money beyond the bank’s stated threshold.
- Did they own property? If the person who died was the only named tenant on their mortgage, you will require a grant of probate before you can claim, transfer or sell the property. You’ll also need to consider what the property is worth, and whether there’s an outstanding balance on the mortgage.
- Did they hold stocks and shares? Much like banks, registrars usually have a maximum threshold on the value of stocks and shares that can be accessed without a grant of probate. This can be up to £10,000.
Most financial institutions will ask for a grant of probate before they release funds or stocks over a certain amount or value, and this amount will vary depending on the bank or company. You’ll need to do your research to find out if probate is required to access those assets.
Jointly owned assets, like a joint bank account or a mortgage with multiple tenants, work slightly differently, and may not be subject to probate in the same way. More on this below.
When is Probate not required?
You might not need a grant of probate if:
- The person who’s died held all their assets jointly with someone else, like a spouse. For example, if they had a joint bank account and were beneficial joint tenants of a property. In these cases, ownership will pass to the other owner.
- The estate is small. If all of the assets held by the person who has died are worth less than £5,000 – a situation known as a Small Estate – then you may not need a grant of probate to gain access to them. This usually happens in cases where no land, property or shares are in the estate.
- The estate is insolvent. This is when the debts, taxes and expenses owed by the estate are greater than the amount actually in it.
In cases where a grant of probate is not required, you will usually still need to provide a copy of the death certificate (given to you when you register the death) and proof of your own identity to gain access to accounts and settle the estate.
Is Probate required if there is a will?
The will makes a difference, but only to the kind of documentation, you’ll need to apply for to settle the estate legally. If there is no will, you need to apply for a ‘Letter of Administration’ rather than a grant of probate, and there are certain restrictions on who can do this. However, the rules around when probate is required are the same whether there’s a will or not.
In some circumstances, someone who wants to deal with the estate of someone who has died will have to apply for letters of administration, rather than probate. This person is called an administrator. You have to apply for letters of administration if:
- There is no will
- A will is not valid
- There are no executors named in the will
- The executors cannot or are unwilling to act.
There are strict rules about who can be an administrator. If there is a valid will, you can apply for letters of administration if:
- The person who died left all of their estate to you in the will, and
- The executors are not named, or cannot or are unwilling to act.
If there is no valid will, and you are the next-of-kin, you can apply to be an administrator in the following order of priority:
- You are the married partner or civil partner of the person who has died
- You are the child of the person who has died
- You are the grandchild of the person who has died
- You are the parent of the person who has died
- You are the brother or sister of the person who has died
- You are the nephew or niece of the person who has died
- You are another relative of the person who has died.
An unmarried partner, or same-sex partner who has not registered a civil partnership and who has not been named in a will as an executor will not usually be able to act as an administrator.
What is the Probate/administration process? Probate explained
What is the probate process like? In most cases, it can be broken down into 10 steps:
- Gathering information and finding out the value of the estate. Contacting banks, the Department of Work and Pensions, HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) and creditors, among others, to find out the full value of the estate and any property.
- Completing inheritance tax forms. You need to report the value of the estate to HMRC whether inheritance tax is due or not. You can find out more about how to do this here.
- Applying for a grant of probate (or letters of administration). If the person who died made a will, you can do this online. If not, you can apply by post. If your application is successful, you should hear back in 20 working days.
- Closing accounts and gathering funds. When people ask what probate is for, the answer is this. With the grant of probate in hand, you can now reach out to all the places where the person who died had or owed money to close their accounts and collect funds. This includes banks, pension providers, mortgage companies and energy companies.
- Paying for the funeral. This is usually the first payment made. Some banks will release money for a funeral without a grant of probate if the amount is below a certain limit. This varies depending on the bank. While waiting for funds to be released, you can get a loan to cover funeral costs.
- Paying debts. If any exist, that is. At this stage, a good probate provider will also try to start releasing funds to beneficiaries of the will.
- Selling and giving out assets. Things like shares will need to either be sold or given to the person who is set to inherit them – either the next of kin or beneficiaries of the will.
- Selling or transferring property. If the deceased left property, this can now be given to whoever is set to inherit it and sold if necessary.
- Dealing with Income Tax, settling Inheritance Tax. When you tell HMRC about a death, they will let you know whether you’ll need to complete an Income Tax return. At this stage, you can also confirm your Inheritance Tax payment position and reclaim anything that was unnecessary.
- Giving out funds and further assets. The final stage is giving out funds, belongings and any remaining assets to those entitled to them (either the will beneficiaries or next of kin, if there’s no will).
As you can see this appears to be the most complex part of managing bereavement. If the situation is a fairly straightforward one it can be easily accomplished by an individual, however, not everyone will feel confident enough or the estate may be considerable in either complexity or value; in those circumstances, it may be helpful to seek professional help and engage a solicitor to manage the process.
If the deceased was living in a rented property and there is no other signatory to the tenancy agreement then the agreement will stipulate how long you have to clear the property. You will need to clear the home of all the deceased’s property and hand in the keys at the end of the notice period. This is usually four weeks, but if you need longer speak to the landlord. For Housing Executive and housing association homes, you may only have a week to clear out the property and hand back the keys.
Clearing the Property
This is not so pressing an issue if the deceased owned their property, you can await the probate/administration completion however, as we saw above with rented property there may only be a week in which to remove all the possessions from the property.
Depending on the complexity of the arrangements it may be worth bagging everything and putting it into storage to give you time to sort through it all.
Updating Property Records
This is usually the final task when settling an estate, again it is fairly straightforward and the average person should be able to complete it. It is useful to review the process and if you feel it may be too complex then again you can always engage a solicitor.
When the deceased owned property, either outright or shared with another, you will need to inform HM Land Registry of any changes of title. There has been a rise in fraud associated with property registrations following HMLR registration changes in 1990 so it is best to get the changes or even Frist Registration completed.
In 2022 it is estimated that 15% of land in England and Wales remains unregistered.
Using the UK Gov link below will allow you to check the property records and guide you through the type of registration or transfer you need to make in regard to the title.
As you can see, when someone dies there are so many things to take account of and you will probably be doing this whilst suffering grief for their passing. Talking about death is rarely done within family and friend circles, even when it is mentioned it is usually in a lighthearted comment, sitting down and grasping the cold hard facts is something we don’t really want to do.
If you do have time, make a plan, gather all your documentation into one safe place, discuss and write down what you want to happen with your funeral and estate. Even if you don’t go to the full length of making a will putting your affairs in order to make it easy for friends and relatives that will have to manage when you pass.
If you are unsure of any aspect of the subjects covered in this article please consult with your local Citizens Advice Bureau or Solicitor.