Who is Responsible for What after Someone Dies?
One of the main concerns following the death of a loved one is not necessarily what the next steps are, but who needs to take care of them. If there is a Will, then this will name one or more Executors, who will be the person (or people) responsible for handling the next steps. If there's no Will, but there's a spouse or an only child, then usually this would fall to them. For larger families where a Will hasn't been made, it can be a challenge working out who's in charge and who does what.
The information below will clarify where official responsibilities sit and who can help along the way, it will also demystify some common assumptions.
It is also important to remember that, even if you have been named as an Executor, you do not necessarily have to undertake the role and associated responsibilities if you don't want to.
What Are the Official Names of People in Charge?
There can be several names or official titles for people who are taking care of the deceased's estate. Some of these may be more familiar than others. Two of the most common are the Executor and the Next of Kin, those not so familiar may be the Personal Representative, the Informant or the Administrator. This is what each of these roles entails...
Executor – This is the person who is named in a Will to deal with the estate. In effect they are working on behalf of the beneficiaries as the manager of the estate, to complete the legal and administrative work in line with the deceased's wishes (as set out in the Will). There can be up to 4 people named as Executors and they could be members of the family, friends, or colleagues. In some cases the Executor could be a Solicitor or a financial institution. It's worth remembering that it's ok for the person who witnesses the Will to be named as an Executor but the witnesses can't be named as beneficiaries.
Next of Kin – When a Will hasn't been made the term Next of Kin becomes more frequently used. However, there are also occasions prior to the person passing away where it is also referred to. This can lead to confusion as the term takes on a different meaning after a death.
A Next of Kin before someone has died is often used to name the primary point of contact. For example, if someone is in hospital, the hospital staff will refer to the Next of Kin as the point of contact. This could be a family member, a friend or even a neighbour or carer, but it will be someone who can easily be contacted if required and, if necessary, make decisions on behalf of the patient.
After the death the Next of Kin becomes much more specific in who it relates to as it ties in with inheritance laws called the Rules of Intestacy. These rules come into play when some dies without leaving a Will. They follow the deceased's bloodline to identify who is in charge of dealing with the estate and how the estate should be divided. Sometimes the person named as Next of Kin when someone is alive can be very different to who is legally the Next of Kin after the person has died.
Administrator – This term only applies to estates where there is no Will in place. The Administrator is the name officially given to the legal Next of Kin who has completed the process of obtaining a Letter of Administration (LOA).As mentioned above there can be multiple Next of Kin, all with equal authority to act. However to apply for LOA it only needs one. This person who applies for the LOA then officially becomes the Administrator of the estate and subsequently takes overall control over the administration of the estate and its assets.
What if I'm Not Officially an Executor or Next of Kin?
If you are not the person officially entitled to deal with the estate, but you want to help and support the person who is, there are some things which you can do. As long as you keep in mind that you're still acting on behalf of the estate and the beneficiaries, you can provide useful assistance to them.
For example, you may be able to contact some of the necessary companies to inform them of the death, such as utility companies and insurers. Many of these companies are comfortable taking an initial notification from anyone, as long as they are able to answer the standard security questions. By making the initial phone call you are allowing the company to start their bereavement process and they can then verify what the next steps will be and, in turn, who will need to complete them. You can then pass this information to the person you are helping so that they are clear on what's required.
If you plan on doing this you may want to check the full name of the deceased, address including the postcode, date of birth and potentially their mother's maiden name. Alternatively you can always call the companies to establish what the process is and what information they require as this can be equally useful.
It's worth keeping in mind that as long as the companies know about the change in circumstances they will usually help and guide where possible. The key is to contact them so that they can freeze any accounts and then take you through what happens next. This may be guidance for you or for someone else but the important thing is to open the lines of communication.
For practical help and bereavement advice, call us on freephone 0800 634 9494