What to do when someone dies
Who to inform and how to get through probate
Death – it’s not an easy topic to talk about. But when someone dies certain parties need to know, the value of their estate (money, property, debt and possessions) must be calculated, and distributed to their beneficiaries.
This article has been written to shed light on the amount of work involved if you’ve been asked to be an Executor – and for those thinking ahead, I hope that it will help you consider who you want to undertake these tasks on your behalf. In this article we’ll be looking at the two main hurdles for an executor to overcome; registering the death and obtaining Probate. We’ll also talk about the costs associated with passing on an estate and how this will change in the next year.
1. Register the death
The Undertaker can’t arrange a funeral until a Burial or Cremation Certificate is issued by the Registrar. All Financial Institutions the deceased had dealings with will need to see an original Death Certificate, so remember to request plenty of these (and take the relevant fee with you). Scans or photocopies are not acceptable.
2. Secure the home and protect valuables
Empty properties are a magnet for burglars and the insurance cover may not be as comprehensive as it was prior to death. If it is winter, it is also important to either drain the water system or ensure heating is left on to protect against burst pipes.
3. Arrange the funeral
Check to see if there was a pre-paid funeral plan, as this may well dictate which Undertaker is used. Also check the Will to see if there are any expressions of wishes as far as burial or cremation are concerned. If it is a burial, you also need to be on the lookout for a Deed to a plot.
4. Contact insurance companies
It is important to advise the insurers of the house, contents and cars of the death and ensure the interest of the Personal Representatives (Executors or Administrators) are noted and any limitations or exclusions understood.
5. Contact ‘Tell Us Once’
This is a useful service offered by the Registrar, which advises all relevant Government Departments, both national and local, of the death. If possible, find the driving licence, passport and any blue badge the deceased had before going to register the death, as these need to be handed to the Registrar. You’ll also need their National Insurance Number.
6. Locate the Will
There may be a copy of the Will in the house. The original could be in storage elsewhere. You will need to find the original to apply for Probate.
7. Apply for Probate
Before the Executor named in the Will can do this, they need a clear picture of the assets and liabilities of the estate, and will then need to apply for Probate. If the estate is going to be straightforward, particularly if there is no IHT to pay, then the process has recently been simplified; everything can now be completed online, both the HMRC IHT Return and the Probate application itself.
8. Value the estate
You need to advise all Financial Institutions of the death and ascertain the value of accounts as at the date of death. Non-financial assets such as property, jewellery and vehicles need to be valued professionally. Personal effects and cars can be sold prior to obtaining Probate and is probably the best way to secure such valuables. In which case, the sale proceeds can be substituted for any valuation. You also need to ascertain any debts, including household accounts outstanding at the date of death.
9. Collect assets, discharge debts and pay the beneficiaries
Once Probate has been granted and the tax affairs of the deceased have been sorted, the process of settling an estate involves gathering assets, paying debts and then distributing everything left in accordance with the Will.
When someone dies there are two hurdles to overcome to pass on their legacy; registering the death and obtaining Probate. The cost of these has either increased, or is about to increase, dramatically.
On 16 February 2019 the cost of a Death Certificate in England and Wales, at the point of registration, increased from £4 to £11, an inflation-beating 175% increase. The Government pointed out that the fees haven’t increased since 2010 and claim they are set at a “recovery” level, i.e. to cover costs only.
At the time of writing, the Government’s proposals to radically reform the fees charged by the Probate Court for an application for a Grant Probate (required to settle an estate when there is a Will) or Grant of Letters of Administration (where there is no Will) are going through the final stages in Parliament.
Currently, there is a fixed fee of £215 (£155 if via a Solicitor) for all estates over £5,000. This reflects the fact that the Court spends the same amount of time processing the application, regardless of the value of the estate.
However, this is expected to change on the 1 April 2019, as the intention is to introduce a tiered fee scale based on the estate’s value:
|Size of estate||Tiered fee|
|Between £50,000 and £300,000||£250|
|Between £300,000 and £500,000||£750|
|Between £500,000 and £1m||£2,500|
|Between £1m and £1.6m||£4,000|
|Between £1.6m and £2m||£5,000|
So, for an estate valued at £50,001 the increase is a relatively modest 16%, but for an estate over £2m, the increase is an eye-watering 2,690%.
With asset prices still rising and the Inheritance Tax (IHT) Nil Rate Band still frozen at the 2009 level of £325,000, it is unsurprising that the Government collected £5.2bn IHT in 2017/18, an increase of 8% over the previous year.
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