If you would like to speak to the National Bereavement Service, call their free helpline on 0800 0246 121.
How you may be feeling
You may feel completely overwhelmed, not ready to go through this process, or like you are intruding on someone’s life. These are all completely normal, especially when the death may be to suicide. It’s important to remember that, while things need to be sorted out, you are not alone. The process may seem long, and need strength and determination to complete. We have included a couple of places who will help simplify everything for you below:
Tell Us Once is a service that lets you report a death to a range of government services in one go. When you register a death, the registrar will give you a phone number and reference number to get started. Tell Us Once will notify people such as the Passport Office, HMRC, DVLA, DWP and your local authority so that you don’t have to make all those calls yourself. They are also able to help you identify if the person has tax debt or is owed tax, and will be able to signpost you to helpful services for banks and other financial services.
The National Bereavement Service is there to support people with all the legal processes when someone dies. They give practical guidance free-of-charge through their website and phone number – 0800 0246 121. They can also refer you to a solicitor. They also offer counselling in partnership with St Giles Hospice.
Introduction to probate
Probate is the term used for the legal process required to deal with someone’s property, money and possessions, known as their estate.
Applying for the legal right to deal with someone’s estate when they die is called ‘applying to probate’. The process is very similar regardless of whether the person who died left a Will or did not write a Will (called intestacy). If a Will has been written, the terms of the Will dictate who will inherit; however, if there is no Will, the law determines who can inherit. You can read more about inheritance on the UK Government website.
Probate typically takes 6-9 months but can go on longer. It can take this long because there are different people and organisations collecting information, and sometimes because it takes time to go through the legal process.
To find out more about applying to probate, you can call the National Bereavement Service, or visit ‘Applying to Probate‘ through the Government’s website.
Leaving a will, vs. not leaving a will
If the person left a will, you’ll get a ‘grant of probate’.
If the person did not leave a will, you’ll get ‘letters of administration’. The nearest next-of-kin has the responsibility to apply for a grant of letters of administration.
Death by suicide
The circumstances of a death don’t usually affect probate. The process may be delayed slightly by the inquest and when waiting for a final death certificate, but often probate can continue with an interim certificate. The distribution of the estate may have to wait until the conclusion of the inquest (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland).
When probate is not needed
You may not need probate if the person who died had jointly owned land, property, shares or money – these will automatically pass to the surviving owners; or if the person only had savings or premium bonds (so no property or other assets).
If you’re not sure whether you need to go through probate, you can read below, or call the National Bereavement Service on 0800 0246 121, who will be able to talk it through with you as part of their free service.
People involved with Probate
There are some particular people involved in Probate, and some steps to take. We’ve laid these out below.
If the person dies without a will – known as intestacy or intestate – then someone will be appointed an Administrator, and they will act as an executor. An administrator needs to be appointed through the grant of a ‘Letters of Administration’ to have legal authority. The administrator is usually the closest living relative of the person who died. It’s important to note that you usually can’t apply to be the administrator if you are not a blood relation of the person who died, including spouses.
The entitled person carries out the processes of probate as if there was a Will, and their appointment is confirmed by the Probate Registry with the grant of the Letters of Administration.
Asset Holders are simply the organisations who hold the accounts and investments of the person who died. They may be a bank, building society, or a company holding shares. They may require the executor or administrator to go through probate if the value is more than £5,000, but this differs for each company, so it might be helpful to check. Probate is also needed when a house or flat is transferred from one owner to another or is sold after the person dies.
These are the people who will inherit after the probate process, because of the person who has died. If you are the executor or administrator, you may wish to write to the people who are beneficiaries early in the process, to let them know that the process is ongoing, and it may take a long time. Beneficiaries are not entitled to any details of the process, and often do not know more information until the end of the process.
Probate only usually applies to high value items, such as savings, houses, or other expensive jewellery. It doesn’t apply to clothing, household items or other low-value items. These can be given out as stated in the will, or by the administrator as they see fit. High value items should not be given away until after probate has been granted. If you are unsure of the value of an item, it should be valued by an expert first.
People who have been declared bankrupt are unable to benefit from a legacy by someone who has died. The money must go to the official receiver or bankruptcy trustee.
A creditor is anyone who is owed money by the estate. These could be large amounts, such as the unpaid part of a mortgage or bank loan/overdraft or small amounts owed to a window-cleaner or newsagent.
Insurance policies, such as car insurance, usually expire when a person dies. You may need to remind the company that the person will not be renewing their policy. The Tell Us Once service will notify the DVLA.
Those named Executor(s) of the Will are entitled to administer the estate. If the person who died has written a Will naming executor(s), they apply for a grant of probate.
If there is only one named, they can decide to apply for probate and administer the estate or to appoint a legal professional to carry this out.
If there is more than one named executor (assuming both are alive and considered mentally capable) , an agreement must be reached on how the estate is to be dealt with. Being named as an executor does not mean you have to be in charge of the estate – you can call the NBS to find out how to not carry out the responsibility.
Also known as Trust corporations, they employ legally qualified people to carry out estate administration. These are regulated but under a separate system from solicitors and do not perform general legal work, instead work with other companies or have specialist departments for non-probate legal processes. You do not need to use a company, but you may if you wish to.
Some solicitors specialise in probate, and you might find it helpful to ‘engage’ a solicitor to complete probate, but you don’t have to. You can do the probate service yourself. If you would like to find out more about this, we suggest you may find calling the National Bereavement Service helpful before you pay any money to a solicitor. They will be able to advise you for free, and they have a list of solicitors they trust to be fair, and have expertise in the process.