The first steps following a death

When someone dies, there are a series of practical matters that must be dealt with. Usually, it’s a family member who handles the affairs of the deceased but it can also be a close friend or carer.

Our guide below, provides advice and straightforward instructions on what you need to do and when.

Who do you need to tell when someone dies?

This depends on the circumstances:

  • If the person dies at home and it was expected, call the deceased’s GP’s surgery immediately. If the GP or a district nurse is not available or if the death occurs at night call the NHS helpline on 111 and they will advise you what to do next.
  • If the death occurs at home but was unexpected, you should call 999 immediately. The operator will provide information about what you should do. The police may wish to examine the area, so you should not disturb the scene. They will arrange for a funeral director to collect the deceased.
  • If the death occurs in hospital, the hospital’s bereavement office will assist you in all you need to do, contact them as soon as you are able to after the death occurs.
  • If the death occurs abroad, contact the British Embassy to seek advice. Typically, you will need to register the death in that country. If the person dies on board a plane or ship, the death will need to registered in the country to which the craft is registered.

Once the death has been reported, a medical professional will complete a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD). If the doctor is unable to determine the cause of death, or if the death was sudden or not from natural causes, they will need to contact the coroner (procurator fiscal in Scotland) who may decide to carry out a post mortem examination or inquest. Once this takes place the death can be registered. A funeral cannot take place until the Coroner completes their inquiries.

How do I register a death?

A relative should register the death if possible. You can also inform the registrar if you were present at the death or you are making arrangements for the funeral.

You will need the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death in order to formally register the death at the closest register office to where the person died. In England, as long as the death has not been referred to the coroner, you must do this within five days of the death (in Scotland it’s eight days). If possible, you should also take all or any of the following that you can find belonging to the deceased:

  • birth certificate
  • marriage certificate or civil partnership certificate
  • proof of address (e.g. a utility bill)
  • council tax bill
  • passport
  • NHS medical card
  • driving licence

During the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing restrictions, a pre-registration system has been put in place. The doctor will send an electronic copy of the MCCD to the registrar and the informant (person registering the death) will need to phone or email the registrar to begin the death registration process.

What happens next?

You will receive a Certificate for Burial or Cremation (known as the ‘green form’) and a Certificate of Registration of Death (form BD8 or the ‘death certificate’). You can buy certified copies of the death certificate and these are useful as certain organisations will need to see the death certificate in order to close or freeze accounts, release funds etc.

The following checklist can help you start the process of sorting out your loved one’s affairs.

  • Locate the Will

    Whether or not the deceased had created a Will is fundamental to how the person’s affairs will be handled when they die.

    The Will may include details of whether the deceased wished to be buried or cremated, and other details about funeral arrangements. The Will should also name executors for the estate. If you cannot find the Will amongst the deceased’s possessions and other family members or close friends don’t know where it is, you could contact the Probate Registry, the deceased’s solicitors, the Law Society or Society of Will Writers, all of whom may be able to help you locate the Will. The organisation responsible for drafting the Will may have provided a storage facility for the original copy, so that’s always a good place to start. You can also contact the Certainty national Will register as many solicitors register Wills they prepare with that organisation

    https://www.nationalwillregister.co.uk/Default.aspx

    If no Will can be found, or it is apparent that the deceased did not create a Will, then they are said to have died intestate and the Rules of Intestacy will be applied to distribute the estate.

  • Arrange the funeral

    The deceased may have left instructions for their funeral (perhaps in their Will or in a Letter of Wishes) and you should follow these as far as practicable. You can find a funeral director via the internet or by contacting the National Association of Funeral Directors.

    You should check whether the deceased had paid into a funeral plan. The Funeral Planning Authority (FPA) provides a search facility if you are unsure.

    Funeral costs can usually be paid out of the estate during the probate process. If a family member pays for the funeral they can claim this money back from the deceased’s estate. Banks and building societies may also release funds from frozen accounts to pay funeral expenses. You can also get help paying for a funeral by applying for a Funeral Expenses Payment if you’re on certain benefits. The Gov.UK website has all the details.

  • Inform the Government

    Use the ‘Tell Us Once’ service to ensure all relevant government departments are informed of the death. Search for Tell Us Once online to find all the details of what information they will need.

    The registrar may have already completed the Tell Us Once details with you when you registered the death or they may have given you a unique reference number so that you can contact the service yourself by phone or online. If you are unable to use this service, you will need to inform the relevant Government departments individually: for example, HMRC, DVLA, UK Passport Agency, Department for Work and Pensions, and local services such as electoral services, council tax, libraries, etc.

  • Who else to inform

    There are various other organisations and agencies which will need to be informed of the deceased’s passing. Many organisations will have dedicated bereavement teams who will be able to handle your call with sensitivity and care. You may have to send the death certificate (or a certified copy) to many of these so that the closure of accounts can be processed.

    You may need to contact all or some of the following:

    • Banks and building societies
    • Mortgage provider and other loan providers
    • Landlord or housing association
    • Utility companies
    • Employer or clients
    • Insurance companies: Any policy held in the name of the deceased might be terminated as of the date of their death. For example, if the family car’s insurance is held in the name of your deceased spouse and you are a named driver, you may find that you are no longer covered to drive the vehicle. (Also, be aware that if the deceased was the registered keeper this will affect your eligibility to drive the car – contact DVLA to change the details on the vehicle registration document.)
    • GP, dentist and any other relevant health care providers
    • Credit and store card companies
    • Telephone and internet provider
    • Businesses with which the deceased had a subscription, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime etc (payment will cease as soon as bank accounts and cards are frozen, but it is a good idea to finalise things formally if you can)
    • Local Services, such as newspaper deliveries, meal delivery services, home-help services etc.
    • Social media account platforms (you can generally choose to memorialise or delete accounts as you wish)
    • The Bereavement Register (to remove the deceased’s name from advertising mailing lists
  • Are you eligible for bereavement benefits?

    You may be able to claim a Bereavement Support Payment if you were the spouse or civil partner of the person who died.

    You may be able to claim Guardian’s Allowance if you are bringing up the deceased’s child.

    Check the Gov.UK website for eligibility criteria and all the details of how to apply.

  • Are your benefits, pension and taxes affected?

    You may need to inform HMRC if your regular income changes as a result of the death. This may be in relation to:

    • interest from a bank, building society or a National Savings and Investment product, (such as pensioner income, capital bonds)
    • income from renting out a property
    • income from Purchased Life Annuities
    • Widowed Parent’s Allowance or Bereavement Allowance
    • Carer’s Allowance
    • foreign pension payments
    • other regular income that should be taxed

    You can contact HMRC by phone or via webchat (all contact details are on the Gov.UK website). Speak to specialist tax and legal advisers by contacting Wellers Wealth.

  • Are you eligible to stay in the UK?

    You may need to apply for a new visa if your right to live in the UK was conferred by your relationship with the deceased. Different rules apply for various situations and you should contact an immigration lawyer to check your status and for assistance with a visa application.

  • Start the estate administration process

    For many relatives, this is the most daunting step because the process of handling an estate (the probate process) can seem overwhelming. Immediately after a person has died you will need to secure their home and car, and make arrangements for the care of any pets.

    The estate administration or probate process effectively involves gathering in all the deceased’s assets, valuing the estate, paying off any debts and then distributing the remainder of the estate to the beneficiaries in accordance with the Will or the rules of intestacy.

    To handle the deceased’s affairs you will need to:

    • Locate the Will (see above)
    • Contact any named executors
    • Decide whether you need a probate solicitor

     

    Named executors will need to do some or all of the following:

    • Value the estate
    • Ensure Inheritance Tax liabilities are met
    • Apply for Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration
    • Arrange sale or transfer of property and/or land owned by the deceased
    • Pay debts and distribute legacies
    • Prepare estate accounts

What happens to a person’s debt following their death?

As an executor, the first thing you should do is contact all creditors (anyone owed money). Individual debts accrued in the deceased’s sole name (personal debts) will be repaid out of the estate – relatives will not be liable for the debt unless they acted as a personal guarantor or co-signatory. Sometimes, an insurance policy may have been taken out as part of the loan process, such as life insurance to pay off a mortgage, so check for any insurance policies tied to individual debts.

If a debt is in joint names, perhaps a loan was taken out by a husband and wife, the co-signee will still be liable for the debt in its entirety. However, you may find that the organisation is open to negotiating an affordable payment plan to help the debtor through any financial hardship caused by the death. If you, as executor or the deceased’s spouse, are struggling to handle joint debts after a loved one passes away, the Money Advice Service provides a list of places where you can get debt advice. https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/tools/debt-advice-locator

Creditors will be paid from the estate in priority order starting with secured debt (mortgage, car loan, secured credit), followed by priority debts (such as income tax and council tax) and then unsecured debt (such as utility bills, store and credit cards, and personal loans). If the liquidated value of the estate does not cover all the debts, they may be written off, but this will depend on the type of debt and the way it was secured.

Wellers expert solicitors for probate and estate administration

For more information on the processes involved in probate and estate administration we have compiled a useful guide: Probate & Estate Administration Services. The downloadable guide includes information on the likely timeframes involved in handling an estate (although the coronavirus pandemic has caused some of these time frames to be extended as a result of lockdown restrictions and subsequent backlogs) and the associated costs involved in relation to disbursements (applications, searches, fees etc).

Contact Wellers today for all your probate and estate administration needs. For probate and Wills clients in Surrey, contact Wellers Hedleys and for clients in Kent, contact Wellers Reece Jones.

Please call us for further advice on 020 8464 4242 or email enquiries@wellerslawgroup.com to talk to one of our team of solicitors.