Practical considerations following a death

8th April 2021 Wills, Trusts & Estate Planning

The coronavirus pandemic has brought our own mortality into focus. We have seen a rise in people enquiring into making a Will and ensuring that measures are in place in case anything happens to us. We often ask clients if they have sat down and considered exactly what needs to be done following a death, and if they have left family members well equipped for when they are no longer here.  

What happens when a loved one dies?

The first priority is to register the death and make funeral arrangements. It is a legal requirement that the death is registered within five days. When registering a death it is usually advisable to obtain several copies of the death certificate as these may be required later in the estate administration process. Any administration expenses, such as death certificate fees, are paid out of the deceased’s assets.

Obtaining the original Will

If the deceased has left a Will, you must try to locate it. This may be kept in a safe place in the house, be stored with a solicitor or deposited in a bank. The Will can sometimes refer to funeral wishes and therefore you may wish to locate this before the funeral has taken place. The Will should also appoint “Executors” to act on behalf of the deceased to carry out their wishes. Only the appointed executors can carry out the deceased’s wishes and apply for a Grant of Probate.

What if there is no will?

If there is no Will, the rules of “Intestacy” apply and the law will dictate who the “Administrators” and beneficiaries of the estate are. These are usually the closest family members. It is necessary to trace the family relationships to determine who is entitled to the estate. This is not always easy and it should be remembered that children born of unmarried relationships rank equally with children born in marital relationships. Only biological or adopted children of the deceased can benefit. One or more of the beneficiaries may apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration.

Ascertaining the assets

One of the first duties of an Executor or Administrator is to secure the assets of the estate. This may involve removing valuables from an unoccupied property, redirecting post or informing the property insurers of the death.

Are your family aware of your assets and can they access the information they will need? It would be helpful to keep a spreadsheet of your assets, with account numbers and passwords (taking security into account), including email addresses and accessing online payment methods. The Executor or Administrator will need to speak to the financial institutions to ensure the death is recorded correctly and to ascertain what each institution requires to release the funds.

Other considerations 

Has there been a Lasting Power of Attorney document in place? On death, the power under a Lasting Power of Attorney comes to an end and the Office of the Public Guardian must be notified.

Are you aware of what happens to your death in service benefit or pension following a death? These assets often pass independently to the terms of a Will so it is important to double check.

Is there immediate cash for a surviving spouse to access if required? The probate process can take many months and in the meantime the bank accounts are frozen. Having a joint account can provide security for a spouse, as this will pass to the surviving spouse without the need for probate to be obtained.

Will they be any tax to pay? It is important to consider your inheritance tax position in lifetime, and how your family would pay any tax bill. Mitigation strategies are often available and can be implemented during lifetime.

There are many considerations following a death and at a time of mourning, things can appear complex. JMW Solicitors are always on hand to ensure that you have made a plan in lifetime and we are there to support your family and make the process as straightforward as possible, when the time comes.  Should you require any further information please do not hesitate to contact a member of our team.

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Joe Cobb is a Partner and Head of Department located in Manchesterin our Wills, Trusts and Estate Planning department

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