What you have to do following a death?

2020 may have been a tough year for all of us, but unfortunately for many it will have been even harder. A mild winter followed by an ongoing pandemic has led to a lot of deaths throughout the spring and summer months, often without the deceased’s loved ones having a chance to visit or see them in their final moments due to the restrictions COVID-19 has necessitated. However, once you have been informed of the death, what do you need to do next?

This is a question many people face and it always comes at the worst possible time, a time when you do not want to learn to do something new. The idea of obtaining Probate and administering estates, arranging funerals etc. is luckily something we don’t get to practice often but as a result it can leave us feeling out of our depth when it does arise.

The first step will be to identify whether or not there is a Will and if so, who are the executors named in that Will – these are the people who legally have the power to deal with the funeral and the assets in the estate. If there is no Will then the rules of Intestacy decide who is entitled to have these powers.

The next step is to register the death at the Registry Office – to do so you will need the paperwork provided by the hospital or doctor that declared the death and to make an appointment (or due to COVID-19 complete an online form) to register the death. This needs to be done as soon as reasonably practicable.

Once the death is registered you can then arrange the funeral and begin, if you are ready, to think about dealing with the remainder of the estate, although you may need to have some idea of the available assets before committing to the funeral costs.

Administration of estate work can be very time consuming and when you might also be grieving and wishing to focus on family and funeral arrangements it might not be something you are ready to deal with. There is no immediate legal need to rush into dealing with the estate, although if the estate is taxable then there are certain deadlines that you need to bear in mind the biggest of which is that Inheritance Tax becomes due six months after the date of death. You can file your return and pay later, but you will incur interest on the late payment.

Typically with estates where tax might be due, it takes longer to get the information required to complete the return and pay the tax and therefore, you should consider starting the process earlier, especially during the pandemic when it is taking far longer than “normal” to obtain the necessary information from third parties.

If you are not ready or willing to do this work yourself you should consider delegating the leg work to others, or as is often advisable, instructing a Solicitor to do this work for you – whilst it comes at a cost to the estate, it is a justifiable expense and guarantees that a proper, timely and accurate job is undertaken and as a result the correct amount of tax is paid (accounting for all the available exemptions, reliefs and nil rate bands). It also allows you to focus on what matters to you and the family whilst not compromising the element or your duty as Executor of dealing with the estate

If you wish to discuss any aspect of dealing with an estate or to seek guidance to set you on the right path contact Bates Wells & Braithwaite’s Private Client Department on 01787 880440.

Written by Glenn Blair – Bates Wells & Braithwaite – 01787 880440

Glenn Blair

Glenn joined Bates Wells & Braithwaite in 2009 and gained experience across the firm before qualifying as a solicitor in November 2015. He has a law degree from the University of East Anglia and took the Legal Practice Course at the College of Law, London.

Glenn is part of the firm’s Wills, Trusts and Probate department and specialises in wills, powers of attorney and the administration of estates.

Away from work, Glenn takes a keen interest in watching and playing various sports and is a long-term season ticket holder at his local football club, Colchester United. A lot of his spare time is also spent enjoying his young family.