What to do after a death

It is emotionally stressful dealing with the practicalities after a death. The funeral needs to be arranged, people have to be informed and this usually happens fairly quickly. Clients sometimes contact us to ask if we hold the deceased’s Will. If we do, they usually ask if there is any mention of specific funeral requirements. After the funeral, what to do after a death is the next question the family usually asks.

There can be a number of different scenarios. We follow the directions in the Will, if there is one.  If there’s no Will, we follow the Law of Succession.

We help the executor to wind up, ingather and then distribute the estate to those entitled to it. The existence of a Will (or lack of a Will) determines the course of action.

Let’s get a couple of technical terms out of the way first

An executor is the person who deals with the deceased’s estate. There is frequently more than one executor.

The beneficiaries are those who are entitled to inherit the estate.

Bequests and legacies are money or property that are given or transferred on the instructions contained in a Will

The spouse and civil partner of the deceased along with the deceased’s children, are entitled to Legal Rights. These are certain rights of inheritance whether or not there’s a Will.

A spouse or civil partner is entitled to Prior Rights where there is no Will.

Confirmation is the formal appointment of the executor’s right to administer the estate. You may have heard this called “Probate”. Probate is the English Law equivalent to Confirmation.

We will guide you through the technicalities every step of the way.

Where there’s a Will

The Will names the executor or executors. That means we can take immediate instructions from the executor and proceed. We don’t need to apply to the court to have an executor appointed. Therefore, we can get on with the first stage of the process – finding our what’s in the estate.

Where there’s no Will

We have to find out who is entitled to be appointed executor. Once we’ve done that, we have to apply to the court to have that person appointed as executor. This takes time and there are costs associated with that. It also means we will have to take out an insurance policy for the protection of the beneficiaries. We can’t really start finding out what’s in the estate until the executor’s appointed.

 It is very important to note that if you were not married or in a civil partnership with your partner and there is no Will, you have no automatic right to be appointed executor or to benefit from the estate.

 What are the family relationships?

We also need to understand the makeup of the deceased’s family. It is important to understand who is entitled to what, even where there is a Will.

What’s in the estate?

Our first task, on behalf of the executor, is to work our what’s in the estate. We’ll list all the assets and liabilities. After that, we’ll write to banks, building societies, insurance and pension companies. We’ll also write to and any other organisation holding the deceased’s assets. At the same time, we’ll investigate who the estate owes money to. That allows us to do some initial calculations. At this point we need to consider any inheritance tax implications. We’ll keep the executor informed during this process. It usually takes some time to gather all this information. That’s because we’re dependent on replies from a number of organisations. We then create an Inventory of the Estate and that lists all the assets and liabilities.

Checking on gifts

We ask the executor about any gifts the deceased may have made. If any gifts were made, depending on when these were made, we may have to include them in the estate.

Applying for Confirmation

Once we have the Inventory of Estate prepared, the next task is to obtain Confirmation. The Inventory is signed off by the Executor and is then presented to the Sheriff Court for the area where the deceased lived. Confirmation is issued once it’s been checked by the court. We also have to deal with any Inheritance Tax issues at this point.

Ingathering the estate

When Confirmation is granted, we then collect all the “money” assets of the estate.  Shares can be encashed or transferred and bank accounts can be closed. Insurance policies cashed in and pension proceeds collects. If there’s a house, this may have to be placed on the market and sold. We also pay the debts of the estate on behalf of the executor.

Distributing the estate

The final thing we do is distribute the estate. If there’s a Will, the estate is divided up in accordance with the deceased’s wishes. That means paying out or transferring any legacies or bequests. We also distribute the residue – that’s anything left after specific legacies, or bequests. We also have to take into account the Legal Rights of the deceased’s spouse or civil partner and any children of the deceased.

If there is no Will, we distribute the estate in accordance with the Law of Succession. This means calculating Prior and Legal Rights and making sure everyone entitled receives the correct amount.

The executor will sign off the accounts of the estate to approve these and the distribution arrangements.

What to do after a death? – get in touch with us

So, when you ask what to do after a death, we hope this article gives you an idea of what’s involved. Clearly, it’s best to have a Will. If you do, it means your wishes will be followed and it’ll save time and money when your estate is wound up. This article outlines what happens in a fairly straight forward estate. Life isn’t always as simple as this. Complicated and complex estates can take much longer to wind up and there are sometimes other problems that cause delay.

We keep our clients fully informed at every step of this process. You can also read more about the process of what to do after a death by visiting our dealing with your estate page. Click here to visit.

If you would like to find out more or need some help with what to do after a death, please get in touch with us.