Losing a loved one: A step-by-step guide

Published by Lily Parisi on 15 April 2024

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Losing a loved one is a challenging and emotional time.

If someone close to you has passed away, there are several practical and legal steps you may need to take. This guide provides a step-by-step approach to help simplify the process and make it less overwhelming.

Step 1: Registering the death

To register a death, you must contact the Registrar’s office to schedule an appointment. It’s a legal requirement to register a death within five days of its occurrence unless the case has been referred to the coroner. While any register office can handle the registration, opting for one in the area where the person died might speed up the process.

During your appointment with the registrar, you’ll need to provide several details about the person: –

  • Full name, including former names (e.g. maiden name)
  • Date and place of death
  • Date and place of birth
  • Address
  • Occupation, and if retired
  • Details of their spouse or civil partner, even if deceased
  • Confirmation of whether they were receiving a state pension

You may find it useful to bring copies of official documents to assist in this process. These might include the person’s birth certificate, passport, and marriage certificate.

You will need to decide how many death certificates you want to buy. It’s advisable to buy several copies as you may need them for estate related matters in the future.

Additionally, the registrar will introduce you to the “Tell Us Once” service. You will receive a unique code to access this service either online or by phone. This service allows you to notify various institutions of the death at one time rather than needing to contact each institution separately.  The institutions include the local authority, the Department for Work and Pensions, HM Revenue & Customs, DVLA and the Passport Office

Step 2: Arranging the funeral

When beginning the funeral arrangements, you’ll need to decide on the type of service you would like, such as civil, humanist, or religious, as well as choose a coffin and plan travel arrangements. The funeral director might also inquire about your preferences for music, readings, and flowers. If the person left behind a letter outlining their funeral wishes it can be a valuable guide in making these decisions.

If the person had a pre-paid funeral plan, the arrangements are likely already in place. If you come across any paperwork relating to a pre-paid plan, it should specify which funeral director to contact. However, it’s essential to review the plan’s details to check if there are any additional costs not covered.

If there is no pre-paid plan, you’ll need to determine how to pay the funeral expenses. Although the person’s bank accounts will be frozen upon notification of their death, many banks will release funds directly to the funeral director upon presentation of the death certificate and a funeral invoice.

Step 3: Finding the Will

Many people will write a will during their lifetime which should specify who they want to inherit their assets upon their death and appoint an executor(s) to manage their estate. Executors bear the responsibility of ensuring the estate is administered in accordance with the person’s final wishes. We recommend conducting a thorough search of the person’s paperwork to find the most recent will. If the person engaged a solicitor to write their will, it’s possible that the solicitor’s firm holds the original will. Importantly, the solicitor’s firm can only release the original will to the executors named in the document.

If you’re unable to locate the person’s will or are uncertain about the existence of a later will, you might wish to consider undertaking a Certainty Will Search through The National Will Register.  Depending on the search option you choose with Certainty, they can search for wills registered with The National Will Register or those potentially held by law firms that haven’t been registered. The cost of these searches can be reimbursed from the person’s estate when funds are available.

If the person did not leave a will or you are unable to find a will, the estate will need to be administered in accordance with the rules of ‘intestacy’. The intestacy rules determine how a person’s estate will be distributed, and by whom, where there is no will. If you think this situation applies in your case, we would be happy to provide advice about the intestacy rules.

Step 4: Determining whether ‘probate’ is required

Sometimes the person’s executor(s) (or administrators in cases of intestacy) must apply to the Probate Registry for a Grant of Probate (or Grant of Letters of Administration) which will, establish their legal right to administer the estate. Whether you need a Grant depends on the nature and value of the person’s assets and whether they were held jointly or in the person’s sole name.

If you would like to know more about whether you need to obtain probate or if you would like some assistance with the application process, please contact our team today.

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