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Alison Jeffels answers your questions on dealing with an estate.

Q: What should I do first?

A: The first priorities are to secure the person’s house and find out if they had a Will. It could contain instructions for their funeral and on who should look after children or pets. The hospital or GP will provide a medical certificate and within five days, you’ll need to take it to the person’s local Registry Office to register the death. The funeral can now be arranged but take legal advice if there is no Will or you’re not an appointed Executor as you may not be entitled to recover costs.

Q: What if there’s no Will or I’m not a named Executor?

A: Appointed Executors are legally responsible for informing certain institutions of the death so you will need to find out who they are. Without a Will, the estate will be distributed according to ‘intestacy’ rules. Many modern family set ups are not recognised under the rules so even if the family agree, it’s worth taking legal advice to make sure those who should be provided for, are.

Q: Who deals with Administration of the Estate?

A: This involves gathering details of the person’s debts, finances and other assets to ensure debts are paid and the remaining estate is distributed according to the Will or intestacy rules. Executors are responsible for administering the estate but should seek legal help if they are unsure about their duties. If there is no Will, responsibility lies with an appointed Administrator. A solicitor can advise who this should be.

Q: What is Probate?

A: Probate gives Executors the power to deal with the assets of the estate. Until Probate is granted, you cannot sell property, access bank accounts, pay outstanding bills or distribute the assets of the estate. Executors can apply for probate but the process can be complex and time consuming so many seek legal advice.

Q: When should I contact a solicitor?

A: At any time during the process although it is often easier at the beginning so you can get the right advice for your situation. You can choose who you want to work with and don’t need to use the solicitor who drafted or holds the Will. You will almost certainly need to take legal advice if:

  • There is no Will or you think there is one but can’t find it
  • Executors are unable or too busy to deal with administration of the estate
  • Executors are unable to find or obtain paperwork for debts and assets or need help to access digital information
  • Complications or uncertainty exists around ownership of property or other assets
  • The estate will be subject to inheritance tax or contains Trusts
  • Outstanding debts outweigh the value of the estate
  • The Will is unclear or you believe it is invalid, fraudulent or contains errors
  • The Will does not provide for children or other financial dependents

If you are dealing with an estate and need advice, contact us. We’ll be happy to help.

For further information please download our "What to do when someone dies" PDF.

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