The emotional aspect of dealing with a bereavement – even one that was expected – can be devastating, but when you start thinking about the practicalities of what to do next it can become even more stressful and overwhelming. It can be very easy to over complicate the process and get lost on your journey.
The steps below outline the main areas you'll need to cover from the day your loved one passes away to the day the estate administration is completed. We can help to untangle your thoughts and give you some direction and structure to what lies ahead by showing you the key points to consider along the way.
If you’re unclear on where to start following a bereavement, call us on freephone 0800 634 9494 and we can go through your next steps together.
Step 1 – Where Do I Start?
During the first few hours after a loved one has died, it can be very difficult knowing what to do with yourself. Knowing where to begin and taking that first step can be the hardest bit. While you’re waiting to collect the official paperwork from the doctor or the hospital to register the death, there are a few things you can be getting on with if you want to.
One of these is finding any paperwork which might detail, for example, whether there are specific funeral wishes or requests for organ/body donation, as these need to be identified very soon after the death. If this isn’t necessary the other documents, listed in the above link, will be useful when you register the death.
If you feel up to it you can also begin to call family and friends to let them know what’s happened. Another way of doing something useful is to activate the Mail Suppression Service. This simple but effective service helps to reduce junk mail and marketing mail in the name of the person who has passed away and in turn can help to reduce the risk of identity fraud. Call us on 0800 364 9494 and we can complete this for you and answer any questions you might have about what you need to do next.
Step 2 – Registering the Death
With the exception of when the Coroner is involved you’ll usually be contacted by either the hospital or the deceased’s doctor to arrange collection of the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD for short). You can then make an appointment with the Registrar to complete the official registration, it’s worth bearing in mind the death needs to be registered in the county where the person died, not where they lived.
You’ll need to take a number of documents along to the appointment. For more information, see What You Need to Register a Death.
The Registrar will give you an A4 wallet containing information about useful services as well as various documents. The main ones will be:
- Death Certificates – These are all certified copies of the original entry which stays with the Registrar and are usually a light green colour. You can request as many of these as you wish, though there will be a charge for each copy. It is often cheaper to receive these on the day of registration rather than at a later date. If anyone asks you for an original Death Certificate, this is what they mean.
- Certificate for Cremation or Burial – Commonly referred to as the “Green Form” this allows the Funeral Director to officially go ahead with the funeral arrangements.
- BD8 - Registration of Notification of Death – DWP – You might not need this if you are offered the Tell Us Once service to notify the Government organisations of the death, but please note this service isn’t available in all areas. The Registrar will be able to tell you whether this is available.
Step 3 – Making the Funeral Arrangements
It’s important to remember when you hand over the “Green Form” you are personally entering into the contract for payment with the Funeral Director. If you have concerns about paying for the funeral call us on 0800 634 9494 and we will go through this with you.
If you’ve found a Will or even a Letter of Wishes this might give you an idea about what your loved one wants for their funeral. This can be a relief for some as it takes some of the decisions out of their hands, but it can be a concern for others especially if there isn’t enough money or the requests are unrealistic. It’s important to understand that funeral wishes in a Will aren’t legally binding and don’t have to be followed if they’re not possible. This can present a moral dilemma but doing the right thing doesn’t always mean following their wishes to the letter.
Before you move on to the next steps its worth checking whether you are the right person to continue.
Step 4 – Building a Picture of the Estate
If you had Power of Attorney or managed the deceased’s finances you will probably have a clear picture of how the estate is put together. Alternatively the deceased may have been very organised, leaving you with a folder or filing cabinet containing all the information you’ll need to look after the estate.
If you aren’t in this position don’t panic, it may take a bit more investigating but you will get there. Take some time to check through any paperwork for details of who they dealt with for banking and other matters. You’re only looking for a name – it doesn’t matter at this point whether accounts are open or closed. A starting point could be a debit or credit card in their purse or wallet, a bank statement, a utility bill or even a memory of a conversation about going to a certain bank or building society. It all helps.
Step 5 – Letting Everyone Know
There will probably be more people to tell about the death than you expect, and it can be hard to think of everyone.
It can be helpful to make two lists, one for personal e.g. family/friends/work colleagues and another for professional e.g. financial organisations/insurance companies/family solicitor/accountant/financial advisor. You can then use the lists to make additional notes, which will help you keep track of what you have done and what is left.
We can help you with this, notifying companies on your behalf through our free Death Notification Service.
Step 6 – Working Out if You Need Probate
The easiest way to work out if you’ll need Probate is to call us on 0800 634 9494 and we can go through this with you.
It’s worth remembering that Probate is only needed in certain circumstances, not just because a Will hasn’t been made or because the total value of the whole estate seems high. There are different factors which make Probate a requirement, but in simple terms it is decided by the value of individual sole assets within a person’s estate. There are exceptions to this rule so call us and we can check for you.
Step 7 – The Final Step
Once you’ve obtained Probate (if required) then you can arrange for any sole assets to be sold or transferred. Before you hand over anything to the beneficiaries you’ll need to make sure any debts are settled and Inheritance Tax has been paid. If you want to make sure that you’ve considered everything you can check who needs to be paid and in what order in our Insolvent Estates section.
When you’re comfortable that all debts have been paid you can either:
- Follow the instructions in the Will to pay any Legatees/Beneficiaries
- Distribute the estate to the deceased’s relatives in line with inheritance laws called the Rules of Intestacy
It’s really important that you keep clear records that show what money is coming in and out of the estate as this will give you a clear paper trail showing how the estate has been administered. You can then put these together with the Death Certificate, the Will (if there was one) and the Grant of Probate (if this was required) to form your estate accounts.
For practical help and bereavement advice or if you get stuck working through the above steps, call us on freephone 0800 634 9494 and we will help you find your way.