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dealing with bereavement

Dealing with Bereavement – Important things to Consider

When a spouse, relative or close family friend passes away, many people find that they are overwhelmed.  Therefore, in this article we have set out the key issues that you need to deal with when dealing with a bereavement and also point you in the direction of people that can help you.

We hope that you find this helpful at what is undoubtedly a difficult time.

In addition to dealing with feelings of shock, loss and grief, if you are named in the Will as the executor of the estate there will be many things that you need to take care of, such as arranging the funeral service, notifying friends and family members and distributing the estate between the beneficiaries of the Will.

The key to success at this difficult time is to have a clear plan for how to take care of all the necessary arrangements and deal with one thing at a time. Read on for more information on how to do this and for ways to receive bereavement help and support should you need it.

Alternatively you can visit Trust Inheritance and see their detailed 10 steps on dealing with bereavement.

What are the key areas that you need to deal with?

Broadly the 5 areas that you need to attend to are:

  • notifying the relevant people and institutions of the death
  • the legal aspects
  • the financial aspects of valuing and distributing the estate
  • the beneficiaries
  • the wider administrative tasks

Before you read about the necessary steps to take you may find it useful to watch this short video which talks you through the grief process and provides some helpful advice about dealing with it.

Area 1 – Immediate steps to take when someone has passed away

1 – Register the Death

In order to officially register a death you need to arrange a face to face meeting with your local Registrar.

2 – Notify the authorities

The government’s ‘Tell us Once’ service

Tell us Once is a government service that lets you report a death to most government organisations in one go, without the need to inform individual organisations separately.

When you come to register the death the registrar will:-

– let you know if the Tell us Once service is available in your area

– give you a telephone number you can call to make the notification

– give you a unique reference number to use in correspondence

Before you use Tell Us Once you will need the following details of the person who died:

  • date of birth
  • National Insurance number
  • driving licence number
  • vehicle registration number
  • passport number

You will also need the following information:

  • details of any benefits or entitlements they were getting, for example State Pension
  • details of any local council services they were getting, for example the Blue Badge
  • the name and address of their next of kin
  • the name and address of any surviving spouse or civil partner
  • the name, address and contact details of the person or company dealing with their estate (property, belongings and money), known as their ‘executor’ or ‘administrator’
  • details of any public sector or armed forces pension schemes they were getting or paying in to

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3 – Organise the Funeral

There are lots of things to consider when arranging the funeral. These include:

  • whether to choose cremation or burial; what type of coffin or urn to opt for. If the person who has passed had a prepaid funeral plan, then you should contact the plan provider as they will help arrange the funeral.
  • whether you prefer to ask mourners to provide flowers or donations; and
  • whether the ceremony will be religious and whether you want to organise a wake.

People who are struggling with this step may find contacting a bereavement support service to be of help.

4 – Obtain bereavement support if required

There are several different types of bereavement services offering support for example with:

  • care for children while all of the arrangements are being made
  • care for pets; and
  • care for disabled dependants or elderly relatives.  

Area 2 – Dealing with the legal issues

There are a number of important legal matters that you will need to deal with following someone’s death.   The key areas are:

  • Dealing with the Will
  • Probate
  • Getting the Grant of Probate

1 – The Will

One of the first things that you need to do is find the Will, if there is one.

For a Will to be valid it must have been executed in accordance with strict rules.

These include the need for it to have been signed by the deceased in the presence of two independent witnesses i.e. people who are not benefiting under the terms of the Will. Where more than one Will is found it is the most recent one that will be valid.

If at first you can’t find a Will then you must continue to search extensively for one as it could quite easily be mislaid amongst other paperwork. You may also need to contact the deceased’s solicitor or bank in case they are storing the Will.

You can also search the government’s ‘Find a Will’ or Probate‘ site to see if a a Will has been registered.

2 – Probate

In most cases you will need to obtain a Grant from the Probate Registry in order to be able to deal with the deceased’s estate.

Probate is the legal process whereby the deceased’s Will is proved by the Probate Registry,which then provides the authority – known as the Grant of Probate – to enable the executors to deal with the estate in accordance with the terms of the Will.

Where there is no valid Will, the deceased is said to have died “intestate” and the Probate Registry then provides authority – known as the Grant of Letters of Administration – for the administrators to deal with the estate in accordance with rules of intestacy.

If the estate is very small (worth less than £10,000) or if the deceased owned everything jointly with someone else then you may not need to obtain a Grant.

3 – Applying for the Grant of Probate/Grant of Letters of Administration

Before you can apply to the Probate Registry you will need to go through all of the deceased’s paperwork to establish details of the estate assets and liabilities.

This may involve obtaining valuations. You will then have to complete the detailed probate application and accompanying tax forms.

Here is a useful video that explains more about the legal process that you need to go through.

You can visit Trust Inheritance for more detailed information regarding the legal issues that you need to deal with.  They set out exactly what you need to do.

Area 3 – Dealing with the financial aspects after someone has passed away

There are a number of financial issues that you need to go through, including:

  • Establishing the deceased’s assets and liabilities
  • Issuing the statutory notices
  • Finalising any tax liabilities
  • Paying any inheritance tax that is due
  • Completing the estate accounts
  • Distributing the estate to the beneficiaries

1 – Valuing the estate assets

In order to establish the estate assets it is necessary to contact all of the financial institutions that the deceased had accounts with.

It is important to check all the paperwork carefully and be prepared to do a little digging to make sure that everything is included and nothing overlooked.

2 – The executor of the estate

The executor of the estate needs to collect all the assets and keep careful records of all monies received and paid out during the administration.

It is advisable for the executors to open a separate bank account for this either with their own bank or that of the deceased.

3 – Debts

It may be that the deceased had various types of debts e.g. a mortgage, credit cards or bank loans.

It is important to track down all potential debts and take care of them as soon as possible, keeping a careful record for future reference purposes.

4 – Place a statutory notice in the press

Executors should advertise for any unknown creditors to come forward and make their claim. This is done by placing advertisements in the London Gazette and also the local newspaper. This protects the executors from subsequently being personally liable for unidentified debts of the deceased of which they were previously unaware.

5 – The time limit for paying the debts

Before taking care of any outstanding debts, the executors should wait until all of the statutory notice periods have expired before making any payments out of the estate. Generally speaking this notice period is at least two months.

6 – Inheritance tax

If the value of the deceased’s estate – including all their property, cash and possessions – is substantial and exceeds the current inheritance tax thresholds then the executor will have to pay inheritance tax.

For help and advice on dealing with the financial aspects, please have a look at Trust Inheritance’s 10 steps, which set out in more detail exactly what you need to do.

7 – Finalise the tax liabilities

The executors are responsible for making sure that the deceased’s tax affairs are fully finalised and that any outstanding tax is paid.

As well as inheritance tax this could also include income tax and capital gains tax. As this can be quite complex it may be necessary to obtain professional help to ensure that the executors themselves don’t become personally liable for any unpaid tax.

8 – Complete the Estate Accounts

The Estate Accounts are a detailed and complete record of all the financial information relating to the deceased’s estate.

It is important to note that every single penny of the estate needs to be strictly accounted for as the executors have to be able to show that everything has been properly taken care of and in accordance with the terms of the Will. Otherwise the executors could face personal responsibility.

9 – Distributing the Estate

Before distributing the estate the executors must first ensure that all the outstanding debts and expenses are settled and that any tax liabilities are paid. They will also have to obtain approval of the accounts  by the residuary beneficiaries.

Only then are the executors free to distribute the estate amongst the beneficiaries, although it is usually advisable to wait until 6 months after the death before the final distribution.

bereavement support

Area 4 – Dealing with the Beneficiaries

1 – Missing Beneficiaries

It is necessary to make all enquiries possible to track down any missing beneficiaries. This may include advertising and instructing genealogists. If unsuccessful in locating a beneficiary it may be advisable to obtain appropriate insurance.

2 – Beneficiaries under 18?

The share of any beneficiary who is under the age of eighteen will be held in a trust until their eighteenth birthday, or later if stipulated by the Will.

In the meantime the child’s inheritance is held and managed on their behalf by trustees.

3 – Beneficiaries that have died

If a beneficiary has died before the deceased then it may well be that the beneficiary’s own children will inherit in his place, but this is subject to the terms of the Will. Where a beneficiary dies during the course of the estate administration then his own estate will inherit.

4 – Paying the Beneficiaries

Once the executors are sure that they have correctly identified all the beneficiaries before they can make any payment to them they need to be aware of the correct order of payment.

This is because whilst there may be sufficient funds to pay all the liabilities there may not be enough funds remaining to pay all of the beneficiaries in full. In this instance the executors must follow the correct procedure for the order of distribution.

5 – Supporting the Beneficiaries

Beneficiaries who have inherited substantial sums of money may require professional guidance e.g. regarding investment.

Help may therefore be needed in finding independent financial advisors for them. You can find financial advisors in our independent directory here.

how to deal with bereavement

Area 5 – Dealing with other administrative tasks

The deceased person’s driving license needs to be returned to the DVLA and their passport sent back to the Passport Office. Other administrative tasks may include the cancellation of club or library memberships and bus passes.

Finally it is important for the executors to obtain receipts from all of the beneficiaries before closing the executor bank account. They should keep all records for at least one full year in case of any subsequent questions or queries arising. This is a good time to seek bereavement help to make sure that everything has been correctly executed.

As a next step, we would stronly advise that you visit Trust Inheritance as they can provide more detailed information on what we have outlined in this article.

For help and advice on dealing with the financial aspects, please have a look at Trust Inheritance’s 10 steps, which set out in more detail exactly what you need to do.

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