What should you do when someone dies?

Sarah Conner

Article written by Sarah Conner, Solicitor, Private Client department

At some point in our lives, most of us will need to know what to do when someone dies. At such an emotionally fraught time, it can be easy to overlook or deal with the practical, legal and financial issues that arise. The Private Client department here at Grant Saw Solicitors are regularly contacted by clients in this position. In this article, we summarise the steps one should take at such a time.

In the majority of cases, a doctor will confirm the death by issuing a medical certificate that shows the cause of death. If the deceased is to be cremated, you will need to let the doctor know. If the person has died in hospital, the bereavement office help to organise the collection of this. Once you are in receipt of the medical cause of death certificate, you should then organise an appointment at the registry of births and deaths, local to where the deceased died. Details can be found at www.gov.uk to find your local registry.

An appointment will need to be made at the registry prior to attending and you must take the medical certificate with you and ensure that you have the following information: the persons full name (including maiden name, if relevant); their place and date of birth; their last address; occupation (or last occupation if they have retired); the full name of their spouse or civil partner; details of any state benefits they were receiving; and funds to pay for the death certificate and additional copies.

The registrar will issue you with a certificate for burial and cremation known as the ‘green form’. This should be given to the chosen funeral director and gives permission for the body to be buried or for the application for cremation to be made. This is dealt with by the funeral director. A certificate for registration of death form BD8 will be issued which deals with pensions or benefits at the Department of Work and Pensions. The death certificate will then be issued. It is prudent to get several copies so that you have enough for the Executors or Personal Representatives of the estate and to provide to other organisations.

The Registrar will provide you with details of the Tell Us Once service. This is a telephone number that you call to advise all of the central and local government departments of the death. Anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one would also advise you to contact The Bereavement Register to help stop unwanted direct mail to the deceased address. This is a free service which reduces mail from most advertising lists and reduces the number of painful reminders of loss in years to come.

It is important to locate the last Will of the deceased. The majority of people who have had there Will prepared professionally have this held in safe storage at their Solicitors with a copy usually stored at their home address in their personal papers. Wills can also be stored with the deceased persons bank, accountant or lodged with the Principle Registry of the Family Division of the High Court, a District or Probate Sub-Registry.

The Will should be referred to prior to organising the funeral as it can provide instructions on the chosen arrangements of the deceased. It is also helpful to establish if the deceased has a pre-paid funeral plan.

Once this has been checked, the Executors of the Will and next of kin should liaise to plan the funeral. It can be helpful to note that once the funeral director provides the invoice for their services, this can then be sent with the death certificate to the deceased bank so that payment can be made from funds in their accounts. This can be of great assistance to families who do not have funds available and utilises the deceased funds which are usually frozen when the banks and building societies are notified of the death by providing them with a death certificate. If, after searching amongst the deceased personal papers, a Will or details of one cannot be found, it is advisable to contact the National Will Register and an email to Certainty to check if a Will exists.

If no Will can be located, the deceased would have died intestate and the closest blood relative should be contacted. The Government website has free resources that can help you determine who inherits under the Intestacy Rules if someone dies without a Will. It is important to note that a surviving partner or cohabitee who was not married or was in a civil partnership with the deceased has no automatic right to inherit.

The Personal Representatives (if there is no Will) or the Executors (if a Will is in place) should then contact all known asset holders such as banks, building societies, savings and investment holders and registrars of shareholdings to advise them of the death by providing them with a death certificate. A full search for this information should be made at the deceased home address for documents and letters providing details. It is possible for an asset search to be carried out to discover unknown assets of a deceased – Landmark Financial Asset Search can assist here but a fee will be involved.

Steps should be taken to value all assets in the estate and all known debts and liabilities so that a schedule of all assets and liabilities of the deceased can be compiled to determine if a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration are required. Once you are aware of the value of the estate, you will be able to determine if a Grant of Probate (if they have died leaving a Will) or Letter of Administration (if they have died Intestate) is required. If there is any land or property in the deceased sole name, Probate is usually required to sell or transfer it in accordance with the deceased wishes in their Will or, if they have died intestate, to those entitled under the rules of Intestacy.

If you need help applying for a Grant of Probate or a Letter of Administration, please contact a member of our experienced Private Client Team today. The team would be happy to assist you and can be contacted directly on 020 8858 6971 or via email.