How To Deal With The Property Of A Person Who Has Died

Everything owned by a person who has died is known as their estate. The estate may be made up of:

  • money, both cash and money in a bank or building society account. This could include money paid out on a life insurance policy
  • money owed to the person who has died
  • shares
  • property, for example, their home
  • personal possessions, for example, their car or jewellery.

If the person who died owes money to other people, for example, on a credit card, for fuel, for rent or a mortgage, this comes out of the estate.

The estate of the person who has died is usually passed to surviving relatives and friends, either according to instructions in the will, or if the person dies without leaving a will, according to certain legal rules called the rules of intestacy.

The person dealing with the estate of the person who has died is called an executor or an administrator. An executor is someone who is named in the will as responsible for dealing with the estate. An executor may have to apply for a special legal authority before they can deal with the estate. This is called Probate.

An administrator is someone who is responsible for dealing with an estate under certain circumstances, for example, if there is no will or the named executors are not willing to act. An administrator has to apply for Letters of Administration before they can deal with an estate.

Although there are some exceptions,, it is usually against the law for you to start sharing out the estate or to get money from the estate, until you have probate or letters of administration.

What Does The Executor Or Administrator Do

The executor or administrator (also called the personal representative) takes responsibility for dealing with all of the estate. This involves:

  • finding all the financial documentation belonging to the person who died
  • sending a copy of the death certificate to the organisations that hold the money of the person who has died. Ask them for confirmation of the value of the money held at the date of death and the amount of income received during the last tax year up to the date of death. Also ask them to freeze the bank accounts so no one can take money out without the correct legal authority
  • opening a bank account on behalf of the estate
  • finding out details of money owed to the estate
  • finding out details of money owed by the person who has died
  • preparing a detailed list of the property, money and possessions and debts in the estate
  • working out the amount of inheritance tax due and arranging to pay it
  • preparing and sending off the documents required by the probate registry and HM Revenue and Customs
  • when Probate or Letters of Administration has been granted, collecting in money belonging to the estate from banks, insurance companies, pension funds and building societies
  • paying debts, expenses and fees, such as legal fees and probate fees
  • sharing out the estate, as set out in the will or according to the rules of intestacy.

If it appears that there are not enough assets in the estate to cover outstanding tax, expenses, bills and other liabilities, this could mean the estate is insolvent which is a complicated estate to handle.

It is therefore often easier and less stressful to allow a Probate Practitioner to handle matters for you.

How Long Does It Take To Get Probate Or Letters Of Administration

The time it takes to get probate or letters of administration varies according to the circumstances. It may only take three to five weeks if there are no complications, inheritance tax is not payable, the estate is straightforward and all forms are filled in properly. However, in more complicated cases, it may take much longer.