Within a few days after a death, someone needs to:
- Make sure that the home and possessions of the person who has died are secure
- Register the death
- Start arranging the funeral
Who Does What?
The family and friends of the person who has died can usually deal with most of the practical things that need doing immediately after a death. Solicitors normally get involved a little later, when the personal representatives ask for their advice about the estate. If there is no family member or friend to deal with the practical matters, then solicitors can help with some or all of these too - but there will be a charge for this.
WHAT ARE THE PRIORITIES?
Security and Insurance for the Property of the Person Who Has Died
Are the home and possessions safe?
If the person who has died lived alone, someone should go to his or her home on the day of the death. Take the security precautions that you would take when leaving your own home empty for a while, such as locking all doors and windows, stopping deliveries of papers and milk and moving valuable items so that passers-by cannot easily see them.
Everything that is in the home of the person who has died should remain there. This makes it easy to arrange for all the person's property to be valued. (It has to be valued for inheritance tax purposes.) If there are very valuable items and you believe they are not adequately insured, consider moving them to a more secure place but consult the executors or close relatives of the person who has died or the person's solicitors before you do this.
If you know that the person who has died had a gun licence and kept firearms at the property, report the death to the police so that they can make arrangements for the guns to be kept safely.
If the person had a pet, make temporary arrangements for it to be looked after by family or friends or through an animal rescue charity.
On your first visit to the home of the person who has died, look for papers relating to the insurance of the property and its contents, even if you do not have time to look for other important papers at this stage. Then ring the insurers, tell them about the death and make sure that there is adequate home and contents cover in place. Keep a note of your conversation with the insurers and put it with the papers relating to the insurance.
Hand all these papers over to the executors or their solicitors as soon as possible.
When someone dies, a doctor issues a medical certificate which states the cause of death. The death then needs to be recorded formally on the register for births, deaths and marriages.
Registering the Death
A death must be registered within five days after the date of the death.
Who can register the death?
If the death was in hospital or in a private home (including a nursing or residential home), the following people can register the death:
- A relative
- Someone who was present at the death but who is not a relative
- Someone representing the "occupier" of the building where the death occurred (for example, the warden of a block of sheltered flats, the manager of a residential home)
- An official from the hospital
- Anyone who has taken responsibility for arranging the funeral
If the death was not in a public building or a private home, the following people can register it:
- A relative
- Anyone present at the death
- Anyone who has taken responsibility for arranging the funeral
A relative should, if possible, register the death but the registrar allows non-relatives if no relative is available.
Where is the register office?
The death must be registered at the register office for births, deaths, marriages and civil partnerships for the district where the person died. If you do not know where this is, contact the local authority or visit its website or the Directgov website.
Ring the register office first to find out if it has an appointment system. The number to call for deaths in Salisbury in order to book an appointment to register a death is 0300 003 4569.
What to take to the register office
Whoever registers the death should take to the register office:
the medical certificate from the doctor
the following information:
- date of death
- place of death
- full name of the person who has died
- any former names
- last address
- name, date of birth and occupation of the person's spouse (including a same-sex spouse for marriages on or after 13 March 2014) or civil partner (whether living or dead); and
- information about any state benefits the person was receiving.
Where to find the information you need
If you do not know all the details about the person who has died that you need for the registrar, you should be able to find them in his or her birth certificate, marriage or civil partnership certificate and on any state pension correspondence.
The registrar issues an official copy of the register, called a certified copy death certificate, after the person registering the death signs the register.
You can obtain any number of certified copy death certificates. You have to pay for them; the price varies from one local authority to another. You can claim back the cost from the estate in due course. You need several copy certificates to send out when giving notice of the death to banks, insurance companies and so on. You can estimate how many to buy if you know roughly what the person who has died owned. For example, if the person had three bank accounts with three different banks and two share holdings with different companies, it is best to have five copy certificates, one for each separate institution. You will also need a copy for the person's pension provider and it is sensible to get one or two spare copies while you are at the register office, since it is less convenient and more expensive to order additional copies later.
Certificate for burial or cremation
The registrar also issues a certificate for burial or cremation. Give this to the funeral director who is making the funeral arrangements.
Form relating to social security benefits
The registrar will give you a form (form BD8) to complete. This is used to tell the DWP of the death so that it can deal with the pensions and benefits arrangements of the person who has died. You can complete this form yourself or ask either the personal representatives or their solicitors to complete it and send it to the DWP.
Is there a Will? Does it Affect the Funeral Arrangements?
It is not essential to find the will before the funeral. However, it is best to find it (or at least a copy) as soon as possible after the death because:
- The person who has died may have said in the will what kind of funeral he or she wanted
- The administration of the estate goes more smoothly if the executors are involved from the outset
People who get solicitors to make their wills for them often keep a copy of the will with their important papers. The original is usually kept by the solicitors' firm; the address and phone number of the firm is often on the cover of the copy will.
If you cannot find a will (or a copy) in the home of the person who has died, certain searches can be made if necessary.
If a will cannot be found, a solicitor can explain what happens to the property of an individual who dies without leaving a will. When this happens, administrators are appointed; they are usually close relatives of the person who has died and they have authority to deal with the estate in much the same way as executors.
Do you have a right to see the will?
Only the executors appointed in a will are entitled to see the will before probate is granted. If you are not an executor, the solicitors of the person who has died or the person's bank, if it has the will, cannot allow you to see it or send you a copy of it, unless the executors agree. However, they can tell you who the executors are. They can also let you know what the will, or a note kept with it, says about the kind of funeral the person
What kind of funeral did the person who has died want?
Many people leave notes saying what kind of funeral they would like, or they express their wishes in their wills. You are not legally obliged to follow the wishes of a person who has died but usually relatives and friends prefer to do so. It can be distressing to discover after the funeral that it was not arranged as the person wished, so look as soon as possible for a note and for the will.
Medical research and organ donation
If you know that the person who has died wanted to leave his or her body for medical research, look for the relevant consent form. The form may be stored with the person's important papers or with the will. The form will have details of the relevant research institution: contact it and follow the procedure it recommends.
The person who has died may have donated his organs for transplant. Donated organs have to be removed within 48 hours of the death and would-be donors normally make their request by signing the NHS Organ Donor Register. Speak to the doctor who is looking after the person at the time of death about this.
Telling the executors about the death
If the person who has died left a will which does not appoint you as an executor but you know the people who are appointed executors, make sure they know about the death. You and the executors can then decide who is to register the death, if this has not already been done, and who is to arrange the funeral.
If you have registered the death and obtained copy death certificates but you are not an executor, hand the copy certificates over to the executors or to their solicitors.
If you are not going to deal with the DWP, hand over the form relating to social security benefits too. If the executors are arranging the funeral, give them the certificate for burial or cremation.
If, because you cannot find a will, you do not know who the personal representatives are, you can still arrange and hold the funeral.
Arranging the Funeral and Paying the Funeral Expenses
When you have confirmed that the body is to be buried or cremated rather than given for medical research, give the certificate for burial or cremation to the funeral director. The funeral director will discuss the arrangements with you and guide you through the process leading up to the funeral and the burial or cremation.
By taking on the responsibility for arranging the funeral, you are also taking on the responsibility of paying for it. You will eventually be able to be reimbursed from the estate of the person who has died, if there is enough money in the estate to cover the funeral expenses.
You, or other family members, may be willing to pay the funeral expenses, on the basis that you will claim repayment from the estate later. However, there are other ways of paying for the funeral:
- Look through the papers of the person who has died for anything relating to a pre-paid funeral plan. If you find that the person subscribed to a plan, contact the provider and follow the procedure it recommends.
- A bank where the person who has died had an account may be prepared to release money from the account. The bank "freezes" an account when it learns about the account-holder's death, making no further payments out. However it may make an exception for funeral expenses. Contact the bank to ask whether it will release money to pay for the funeral.
- Look through the papers of the person who has died for anything relating to life insurance or pensions and contact the providers. If the person had a job at the time of the death, contact the employer's HR department. Lump sum payments can often be made from life insurance policies and pension schemes very soon after a death. However, you should, if possible, consult the solicitors advising the personal representatives before using lump sums of this type to pay funeral expenses: there may be a more tax-efficient way to use the money.
- If you are arranging a funeral for a partner or close relative and you are on a low income, you may be able to get a funeral payment from the Social Fund. You may have to repay some or all of it from the estate of the person who has died. For more information, visit the Directgov website.
Telling People About the Death
You may need to contact the solicitors of the person who has died soon after the death to ask if they have the will and to find out who the executors are.
If there is a will
The executors appointed in a will do not necessarily need a solicitor to help them deal with the estate. They can ask the solicitors holding the will to send it to them and can deal with the estate themselves, following guidance that is readily available on the internet and in books. If the property passing under the will is uncomplicated and the will itself is straightforward and was prepared by a solicitor, then executors may find it quite easy to go
ahead without legal advice. However, you need a businesslike approach and quite a lot of time to deal with even a simple estate.
If the executors decide to take legal advice, they can either go to the solicitors who prepared the will or to a different firm. If they have not contacted the solicitor before the funeral, they should do so soon afterwards, and arrange a meeting.
If there is no will
If the person who has died seems not to have left a will, then one or more of the person's closest relatives (wife, husband or civil partner, father or mother, brother or sister, son or daughter) should contact a solicitor for advice. The solicitor can help with further searches for the will and explain what to do if the person is intestate.
Bank or building society
Tell the bank or building society where the person who has died had a current account about the death.
Private landlord or local authority
If the person who has died was a tenant living in rented accommodation, tell the landlord or local authority about the death. If the accommodation was shared and the remaining occupant was not a co-tenant but wants to stay in the property, the landlord may be willing to make a new rental agreement with the remaining occupant.
Contact the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) to cancel the driving licence of the person who has died and to request that the registration details of his or her car are amended. Refer to the "Motoring" section of the Directgov website or phone the DVLA for further information about this.
If anyone is going to drive a car that belonged to the person who has died, check that they are adequately
Look for the passport of the person who has died and return it to the UK Identity and Passport Office so that it can be cancelled.
Utility companies and other service providers
The providers of services to the home must be told about the death. For example:
- Utility companies supplying gas, electricity and water
- Broadband, phone and satellite TV providers
- The Television Licensing Authority
- The local Council Tax authority
- Suppliers of other regular services, such as gardening and cleaning
If the suppliers addressed their bills to the person who has died, tell them about the death and, where appropriate, arrange for them to take meter readings as close to the death as possible. If someone else is going to go on living in the property, contact the supplier to arrange for the account to be transferred into that person's name, if they want to go on receiving the service - or arrange to switch to another supplier. Remember that direct debits from a bank or building society account of a person who has died, including direct debits to utility suppliers, are cancelled when the bank or building society hears about the death.
If the person who has died was living alone in a private home, contact the Royal Mail to arrange for post to be redirected. Redirecting to one of the personal representatives is best, since the post is likely to include information about the person's assets and debts.
Joint bank accounts
If you had a joint bank or building society account with the person who has died, then from the time of the death you automatically own the money in the account. The account is not "frozen" after the death and you do not need a grant of probate or any authority from the personal representatives to access it. You should, however, tell the bank about the death of the other account holder.
Bank accounts and other assets in the sole name of the person who has died are usually "frozen" from the death until the personal representatives obtain a grant of probate or letters of administration. If the person who has died paid household bills, then the other members of the household may be worried about how to manage between the death and the grant. There are various ways of dealing with this problem, for example:
- If a member of the household had a joint account with the person who has died, that account can be used to pay bills.
- It may be possible to borrow from a family member or from the bank.
- If the person who has died had life insurance or was a member of a pension scheme, a lump sum may be payable soon after the death.
If you are an executor appointed in the will of the person who has died, or the person is intestate and you are entitled to be appointed an administrator, then in the months following the death you will be involved in the administration of the estate.
Whether or not the personal representatives of the person who has died choose to have solicitors helping them with the process, their first task is to assemble as much information as possible relating to the person's assets and debts.
THE NEXT STEP: GATHERING INFORMATION
A list of papers and information that the executors or administrators are likely to need is set out below. Bear in mind that if the person who has died had a computer, he or she may have kept records in electronic form and received bank statements and bills through the internet. If you can find the relevant files on the person's computer, print them. If you cannot find them (for example, because you do not know the password of the person who has died), simply explain the situation to the personal representatives or their solicitors.
This section contains checklists of the information and documents you will need at various stages after a person's death.
Information to keep at hand
It is useful to note down the following information and keep it at hand, whether you are an executor or helping with the practical arrangements following the death:
- Full name of the person who has died and any former names
- Address at death.
- Date of birth
- Place of birth
- Date of marriage or civil partnership
- National Insurance number
- NHS number
- Tax reference
Documents to look for immediately after the death
If the person who has died was living alone in a private home, someone should go to the home on the day of the death to look for papers relating to insurance of the person's home and its contents, preferably the home and contents policy itself.
If you believe that the person who has died wanted to donate organs for transplant or to donate his or her body for medical research, also look for: An organ donor card. A consent form
Documents to look for before registering the death
The following papers contain information needed for registering the death: Birth certificate, Marriage or civil partnership certificate, Death certificate of former wife, husband or civil partner, State pension correspondence, Passport.
Even if you cannot find these papers, you can register the death if you have all the necessary information.
Documents to look for before the funeral
It desirable to find the following documents before the funeral but the funeral can go ahead even if you do not find them:
- The most recent will of the person who has died, or a copy of it
- Any note saying what kind of funeral the person wanted
- Papers relating to life insurance or pension arrangements
Documents to look for as soon as possible
As soon as possible after the death, but not necessarily before the funeral, find up-to-date papers and information relating to as many of the following as are relevant:
- Current bank or building society account
- Rental agreement/Deeds to home
- Driving licence and vehicle registration
- Suppliers of gas, electricity and water Broadband, phone and satellite TV providers
- Television licence
- Council Tax
- Other service providers, such as cleaners and gardeners
Documents to look for before meeting solicitors
The personal representatives will need papers containing up-to-date information about the following to enable them, or their solicitors, to start on the administration of the estate:
- Bank and building society accounts of the person who has died Insurance policies
- Property deeds
- Share certificates, dividend vouchers and other papers relating to shareholdings
- Statements relating to savings and investments
- Valuations, for example of jewellery, paintings or furniture
- Credit card statements
- Personal loan agreements
- Hire purchase agreements
- Recent tax returns
- PAYE P60 and recent payslips
- Unpaid invoices addressed to the person who has died
- Unpaid invoices issued by the person who has died
If the personal representatives arrange to meet the solicitors, it will be helpful if they take these papers to the meeting.
For Further help and information, go to:
www.gov.uk, the official government website, under Government, rights and citizens, Death and bereavement.
www.adviceguide.org.uk, the CAB website, under Family, What to do after a death.
www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk, under Wills and probate.
www.lawsociety.org.uk, the Website of the Law Society of England and Wales, under Common legal problems, Probate.