Being named as the executor of a loved one's estate can be a daunting, complex task. Often, apart from in the most straightforward of cases, the amount of responsibility that comes with administering a deceased loved one's estate is likely to be overwhelming for many inexperienced executors, especially when all this responsibility is placed on them at what is bound to be an extremely difficult time. At Oratto, we understand the full scale of an executor's duties and wish to simplify the situation for them.

While it is possible to navigate the probate process without contacting a law firm – and may make sense for those on a very tight budget – engaging an experienced probate solicitor may be an invaluable option for many executors. A specialist probate solicitor should ease the administrative burden and facilitate a smooth process, helping you resolve any contentious issues that may arise between beneficiaries and avoid many of the pitfalls you may encounter if you were to embark on 'DIY probate'. Perhaps most importantly, it should give you more time to focus on the matters that likely matter the most to you, such as being able to grieve the loss of your loved one, without legal worries on your mind.   

Our easy-to-follow checklist below will allow you to better understand everything that needs to be done after a loved one's passing and may help you decide whether it would be best to seek professional assistance or if you'll be able to manage the probate process on your own.

After a Death

All of the following should be completed as soon as possible following a death:

  • Report the death to a doctor – in certain circumstances the death will need to be reported to a coroner (Procurator Fiscal in Scotland).
  • Register the death (and obtain copies of the death certificate).
  • Notify family, close friends and minister of religion (if appropriate), and the deceased's registered GP.
  • Contact an undertaker and begin planning the funeral.
  • Make any necessary interim arrangements for any dependent children, or pets/ livestock.

Locate the Will

Finding the will is an important next step. However, this is sometimes easier said than done. We recommend taking the following approach:

  • Find the Will, and any codicils and letters of wishes. If personal representatives have been named in the Will, they will need to be contacted.
  • If there aren't any named personal representatives, then you must establish who is entitled to administer the estate.
  • Find all documents relating to the deceased – financial and otherwise. More information about this step can be found here.

Who Needs to be Contacted?

It can be a time-consuming process, but you must inform all relevant parties of the death. This may include the following:

  • The deceased's GP
  • A probate solicitor
  • Employers or employees
  • Beneficiaries
  • HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC)
  • The Local Council – to cancel housing benefit, council tax benefit, a Blue Badge and/or to inform council housing services and remove the person from the electoral register
  • Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)
  • The Passport Office
  • The DVLA – to cancel the deceased's driving licence

Arrange the Funeral

Arranging the funeral can place a great deal of demand on those charged with the responsibility. Following the steps below is recommended for anyone facing this situation:

  • Check the Will, any codicil(s) or Letters of Wishes for any instructions regarding funeral preferences or wishes from the deceased.
  • Check through the deceased's documentation to see if there are any pre-paid funeral plan arrangements.
  • Keep ALL receipts from expenditure associated with the funeral service, funeral transport and the wake – you will be able to recoup these from the estate later on.

Manage Finances

It is essential that the deceased's financial arrangements are dealt with quickly and efficiently. You may need to show the death certificate (or a copy) to the relevant organisations. The following represent a useful starting point in this process:

  • Freeze all bank and building society accounts.
  • Open an executor's bank account.
  • Cancel all direct debits, standing orders, subscriptions and credit/store cards.
  • Claim any life insurance policies
  • Claim any monies owed to the deceased such as wages, social security benefits, and pensions.

Organise Assets

It can be a very onerous and detail-heavy process, but it is necessary to try to organise the deceased's wealth and assets. This process can be begun in the following way:

  • Make a detailed inventory of all assets.
  • Arrange a valuation of the estate, including any houses, chattels (general possessions), stocks, shares, investments, life insurance policies, artwork and all other personal items.
  • Secure any unoccupied buildings and check to make sure that there is adequate insurance cover for each property. Collect all keys.
  • Collate all documentation and paperwork relating to assets, including any bank statements, passbooks for savings accounts, share and stocks certificates, property deeds, insurance policies, NSA accounts and more.

Organise Liabilities

Just as you need to organise and make a detailed inventory of all assets, it is necessary to manage all the deceased's liabilities, including any unsecured debts, outstanding rent, utility bills, credit cards etc.

Inheritance Tax

Determining and arranging for Inheritance Tax liability can be complicated and stressful even at the best of times. Being aware of the following steps can help you at least approach the process with some clarity:

  • You will need to complete form IHT400 if the estate is subject to Inheritance Tax. HMRC will offer help with calculating the total amount of IHT to be paid.
  • Inheritance Tax must be paid before the Grant of Probate can be issued.
  • Arrange a loan or funds to pay the Inheritance Tax. Make sure you keep your receipt from HMRC.
  • If you use an Oratto member solicitor to deal with the probate and estate administration, they will also assist you with the IHT forms and calculations.

Applying for Probate

You will need to carry out the following:

  • Complete the relevant forms, PA1, IHT400 (even if there is no IHT to pay) and send them to your local Probate Registry along with an official copy of the Death Certificate, the original Will, and any codicils (send three copies of each – and don't forget to keep a copy for your own records) alongside the application fee. (If you are using an Oratto member solicitor to deal with the Grant of Probate, they will do all this on your behalf.)
  • You will receive notice to attend the Probate Registry or the office of a Commissioner for Oaths. You must attend in person, where you will be required to swear the oath and to confirm that the information you have provided is true to the best of your knowledge.

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Place a Notice in the Gazette

A statutory advertisement for creditors and claimants to the deceased's estate must be published, it is recommended that this is placed in The Gazette, which is the official public record, and/or in local newspapers.

Distribute Copies of the Grant of Probate

Send copies of the Grant of Probate to all asset holders, who should then release the assets to you via the executor's account.

Keep a detailed and concise record of when and who has been contacted, and when they replied and what action was taken or still needs to be taken – doing so may prove to be invaluable in the future.

Concluding the Estate

Concluding the estate is essential, not only practically, but also in terms of achieving closure. This can be done by ensuring the following:

  • Pay any debts owed. There is a set order of priority for paying debts:
    1. Funeral expenses; 2. Any remaining taxes; 3. Creditors (loans, mortgages etc); 4. Beneficiaries.
  • Complete any stocks and shares forms so that they can be transferred to the appropriate beneficiary or be sold and the monies shared as per the Will.
  • If the deceased's home is to be transferred to another person, you (or your solicitor) should also draft an assent (transfer) for the property.
  • Share the residue of the estate amongst the beneficiaries and allocate all legacies and items bequeathed by the deceased.
  • Give all beneficiaries a R185 form (certification of Deduction of Income Tax).
  • Keep detailed records of who received what and when, and all actions you have taken. (in case of any query or challenge later on).
  • Close down the executor's account once all beneficiaries have been paid and all estate administration is concluded.

You must keep all paperwork including the Grant of Probate securely for a minimum of 12 years.

And finally, as executor you may find the probate process grueling and complex, but it's important that you give yourself space for grief, mourning and time to come to terms with your loss. Probate is not a quick process, so be patient and things will run their course.