It’s an understatement to say that dealing with a bereavement is never easy. Even when you’re able to turn your thoughts to organising the deceased’s affairs, it’s hard to know where to begin.

To make things a little more straightforward, we’ve created this article listing some key areas you need to think about. Here, we’ll focus on collecting paperwork and the estate. For more comprehensive bereavement guidance (covering registering death and funeral arrangements), see this step-by-step checklist from the Bereavement Advice Centre. 

Finding paperwork

When you feel ready, it’s a good idea to start collecting any relevant paperwork. The deceased may have documented their funeral wishes, filed their organ donation preferences, and created a will to make things easier for family members.

Some bits of paperwork will be particularly helpful to keep on-hand for whenever you need them. Collect documents such as:

  • The Will
  • Written funeral wishes
  • Organ donation paperwork
  • Birth certificate
  • Marriage or civil partnership certificate
  • Divorce papers 
  • Death certificate of a previous spouse
  • Deed Poll documents
  • NHS medical card
  • State pension or benefits documents
  • Bank account documents
  • Insurance policies
  • Pension certificates

You might need more documents in the future, but this is a useful starting point. If the deceased told you where they kept all their paperwork before their death, check here first. They may have compiled all the paperwork they have that could be useful to your family.

The Will

If you can’t find a Will, it might be located at the deceased’s bank or solicitor’s office. Ask family members if they know anything about this — it could make it easier to track down. If the Will is not at their home, bank, or with their solicitor, check the Safe Custody Department of the Principal Probate Registry in London. 

Contact the Bereavement Advice Centre if you can’t find the Will. They will be able to help.

The estate

You might not be thinking about sorting out the deceased’s estate right away. You will probably be busy registering the death, informing others, and spending time with family at first. 

However, someone will eventually need to take charge of handling the deceased’s estate.

If you’re not sure who will be responsible for this, check the Will. There should be one or more named Executors who will be in charge of handling the estate. 

Do you need probate?

Even if you are a named Executor in a Will, you might still need to apply for probate to access their assets (though this isn’t always necessary). If there is no Will, you can apply for probate as the deceased’s closest living relative.

Letters of administration

Sometimes, someone who intends to deal with the deceased’s estate will need to apply for letters of administration (not probate). If granted, they will be an Administrator.

You usually need to apply for letters of administration if one of the following applies:

  • There is no Will
  • There is no valid Will
  • No Executors are named in the Will
  • Named Executors in the Will cannot or are unwilling to act

Again, you do not always need letters of administration to deal with an estate if certain situations apply. See this useful guide from Citizens Advice for more information on dealing with the financial affairs of someone who has died.

If you or your family intends to use a solicitor to help you handle the estate, they will be able to explain the legal details regarding probate, letters of administration, and more. They’ll help you through the process and work out what applies to you.

Everys | solicitors in East Devon and Somerset

Administering an estate can be difficult and is often more time-consuming than people first realise. Sometimes, there are not enough assets to cover debts, including any taxes due, and it is likely you will need help. At Everys, our expert lawyers are happy to guide you through the whole process from start to finish.

Our legal services cover probate, wills, inheritance tax, powers of attorney, and more. Our solicitors are based in Exeter, Exmouth, Honiton, Seaton, Sidmouth, and Taunton.

Call free on 0800 8840 640 to speak to a member of our Private Client team, or email PrivateClientNewEnquiries@everys.co.uk. You can also contact us at the office that’s most convenient for you.

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