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Bereavement and estate administration - are you struggling to know where to start?

View profile for Esther Woodhouse
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Bereavement is an emotive subject and certainly not something any of us likes to talk about but, sadly, it is an inevitable fact of life.  When this actually happens to your family or a close friend there is undoubtedly nothing that can fully prepare you for the emotional trauma that may follow. 

Interestingly, the Office of National Statistics reports that 185,519 deaths have already been registered in England and Wales up to the end of April 2019.  The latest annual report (dated 2017) declared a total of 533,253 deaths, an increase of 1.6% from 2016 which was the highest number since 2003.  As a result of people generally living longer and populations on the rise, a reported increase in deaths is not surprising.

If you are the ‘next of kin’ or the appointed executor in an estate (see Naomi Liston's blog re ‘Executors Role’), a million things may be racing through your mind at this point about what you need to do - but note - there is no immediate rush to do everything all at once. So, please … take a deep breath.    

Firstly, the next of kin (i.e. spouse, children or close family member) should keep in touch with the hospital or GP (or care home, if applicable) to obtain the relevant paperwork to enable the formal registration of the death, ideally within five days of the date of death.  Click here to find your local registration office  Solicitors are often instructed to step in and deal with the registration process where it is not possible for a family to do so. This can often be a way of alleviating any issues on behalf of others in an already stressful situation.

Key documents

  1. Death certificate. This is a key document as it enables the funeral directors to complete the formal arrangements.  It will also be required to send to the relevant organisations so that their records can be updated.  The Registrar will issue as many certified copies as required at a cost of £11.00 per certificate.  It would be advisable to obtain at least five copies.
  2. Last known will and testament.  Every effort should be made to locate the last known will so that you can ascertain whether there are any specific funeral wishes that need to be taken into consideration.  Very often a will can be silent on funeral wishes but it is worth checking.  Alternatively, the surviving spouse, children or close family may already know the wishes or the deceased may have left separate written instructions in their home.

Who has authority to act?

Once the funeral has been undertaken, the administration of the estate will need to be considered.

Where a will exists, only an appointed executor has authority (or all of them if there are several) to formally administer the estate. In the event there is no will, the estate shall be dealt with in accordance with the statutory ‘intestacy rules’ which shall determine, by order of priority, who is entitled to act.

Whilst administering an estate is a formal process, it is not an exact science given everyone’s affairs will differ and various considerations will always apply. Therefore, the importance of undertaking the administration process correctly and taking into account the minor detail can never be underestimated.  If you need any advice and assistance in relation to the administration of an estate or need to prove a will before the Probate Registry to proceed, please do get in touch so that we can assist you further.