What do I do when someone dies?

15th February 2021 12:52 pm Comments Off on What do I do when someone dies?

DON’T PANIC.  Everything seems scary and confusing, but there is very little that has to happen quickly and, apart from those few things, everything else can wait until you feel up to dealing with business.

  1. Register the death

The first thing you have to do, and do within five days, is register the death.  This is usually done by a close relative, but can be done by someone who was present at the death, or by someone who will be in charge of making the funeral arrangements.

You need the medical certificate of the cause of death.  If the death was in hospital, this will usually be issued by a hospital doctor.  If the death was at home, but expected, the GP will usually do this.

If the death was unexpected, the case will be referred to the coroner, who will have to make a decision about the issue of the death certificate, whether to hold an inquest, and whether a post mortem is needed.  If there is to be an inquest, you can still get an interim death certificate.

As well as the medical certificate of the cause of death, the registrar will want as much of the following information as possible about the person who has died:

  • full names (including maiden name of a married woman) and address,
  • date and place of death,
  • date and place of birth (just the town for people from the UK, or the country for people from outside the UK),
  • occupation,
  • details of spouse or civil partner, and
  • whether the person was receiving state pension or other benefit.

When you have as much of this as possible, ring a registry office first.  They will tell you what is needed next.  You can contact any office, but preferably the one covering the place where the person died. You can get the number online.

  1. Use Tell Us Once

The registrar will offer you the Tell Us Once service.  This automatically tells all relevant national and local government departments and agencies.  It saves a lot to time later, so take it.

For this, you will need as many of the following as you can find:

  • National Insurance number
  • Passport number
  • driver number
  • vehicle registration number
  • tax reference number (UTR)
  • details of surviving spouse or civil partner
  • details of any benefits or local authority service the person was receiving, and
  • details of any public sector or Armed Services pension the person was receiving.
  1. Get copy Death Certificates

You can order more later, but it is simpler and cheaper to get as many as you think you might need, while you are registering.  How many bank and building society accounts and company shareholdings did the person own?  Everyone will want to see a Death Certificate.

  1. Contact the funeral director

The person who died may have had a pre-paid funeral plan with a particular firm, and there may be an expression of wishes about the funeral arrangements in their Will, or left with their papers.

You do not necessarily have to find the money for the funeral.  If there is enough money in one of the person’s bank or building society accounts then, on production of the funeral invoice and a death certificate, money can usually be released from that account to cover the cost.

  1. Secure the assets – 1

The registration and the funeral are usually matters for the next of kin – the closest family.  Everything else is for the people responsible for winding up the estate – that is the executors named in the person’s Will.  If there was no Will, it is the people who will share the estate under the Intestacy Rules – simplistically, the closest family again, but you will need to talk to a specialist solicitor about that, as the Rules are complex.

If the person owned a house or flat, get hold of the keys.  If you’re not sure who may have keys, you might want to bolt the back door inside, and change one of the front door locks.

Even so, while the house is standing empty, it is vulnerable, so you should consider removing from the house anything which is of value, either monetary or sentimental.  (You will need to bring it back at some point for a formal valuation.)

Even after doing this, it is still a good idea to have someone watching the house, if possible, while the funeral is taking place.  Sadly, that is a favourite time for some burglars to try their luck.  Even if you have removed all the valuables, you don’t want the distress of dealing with a burglary at this time.

  1. Secure the assets – 2

As well as reducing the risk of theft from the house, you should look to the house itself.  After all, it is probably the most valuable asset.

If you can find the house insurance documents, ring the insurers, tell them that the occupier has died, and follow any requirements they lay down for keeping the policy in force.

Subject to anything the insurers tell you to do, you should make sure all water taps, and gas and electrical appliances are turned off, so nothing can flood or catch fire.

Again, subject to anything the insurers tell you to do, in cold weather, you will need either to drain down the water and heating systems to prevent a pipe freezing and bursting and causing a flood, or make sure that the house is kept warm enough to prevent that happening.

  1. Deal with the motor car

If the person owned a motor car, the insurance on it probably died with them.  The car should not be parked in the roadway until it has been reinsured.

If anyone needs to drive it in the meantime, they do so only with any cover provided by their own motor insurance policy.

  1. That’s it for now

Those are the only necessary and urgent steps.  Everything else can wait until you feel up to talking about the detail of the administration.

Nothing terrible will happen because you choose to leave things for a few days, or even a few weeks.

The only exception to this is if the person who died left a spouse or children who are in urgent need of money which is locked up in the estate.  In that case, you should move on to the next step as soon as you can manage.

  1. The next step

The next step is to talk to a specialist solicitor to find out what happens next.  The most efficient way to do that is to use our fixed-fee service.

For a fixed fee of £300 (including VAT), you can spend up to an hour with one of our experienced specialist solicitors, who will:

  • explain the meaning of the Will or, if there is no Will, how the estate is passed on under the Intestacy Rules;
  • explain when it is necessary, and when it is not necessary, to apply for a grant of probate of the Will (or, if there is no Will, a grant of letters of administration of the estate);
  • explain the basic steps involved in winding up the estate, and give you some practical tips;
  • (depending on how much you know about what makes up the estate and what it is worth) either;
    • calculate how much Inheritance Tax might be charged on the estate; or
    • explain how Inheritance Tax is charged on estates, and on gifts made by someone who has died, and on any trust from which they were entitled to benefit;
  • explain the rules for filing an Inheritance Tax return and paying any tax; and
  • tell you if there is any way to reduce any Inheritance Tax charge on the estate itself, or on the value of the estate in the future.

At Colemans, we have extensive experience of helping clients and their families with this complex area of law. For more information call us on 01628 631051 or email privateclient@colemans.co.uk to arrange a meeting.


Categorised in: Wills, Probate and Trusts

This post was written by Colemans Solicitors LLP

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