What to do when someone dies and leave a Will
When someone dies leaving a will, sorting out their financial affairs can seem an onerous and complex task, especially when you’re grieving the loss of a loved one.
To help you manage and handle this challenging responsibility, here’s everything you need to know about what to do when someone dies leaving a Will and how to deal with a deceased person’s estate.
What do you do with the Will when someone passes away?
When someone dies, one or more executor(s) named in the Will will be responsible for managing the estate and distributing the assets of the deceased in accordance with its terms.
First and foremost, before attempting to do anything with the will, you should first:
- Check the Will’s validity to avoid any potential future disputes with the will
- Decide whether you want to deal with administering the deceased’s estate yourself
Is the will valid?
When you write a will, you need to ensure it is a legally valid will by signing it in accordance with the legislation set out in Section 9 of the Wills Act 1837.
To comply with this Act, the Will needs to have been signed by ‘the testator’ (that’s the person who the will is about and written by) in the presence of two independent witnesses, who must also sign and print their name and address near the testator’s signature and the will must also be dated.
Note: Due to the Covid pandemic lockdowns, witnessing of a testator’s signature was permitted to be done online from 31st January 2020 until 31st January 2022 although the end date is subject to amendment.
If, upon inspecting the Will, you find it hasn’t been properly prepared and/or executed in accordance with the legislation, then it will be deemed invalid and the Rules of Intestacy will apply as though the deceased had not written a will.
You might want to read: Making a will checklist: estate planning
Can you handle the responsibility?
If you’re a named executor in a legally-binding Will, then it is your responsibility (along with any other named executors) to apply for probate to obtain legal authority to deal with the administration and distribution of the deceased’s estate by either:
- Using, instructing and paying for a probate specialist (lawyer).
- Dealing with the application for probate yourself, potentially saving thousands of pounds.
The deceased may also have made a Letter of Wishes alongside their will and whilst these wishes aren’t legally-binding, an executor is expected to comply with and follow the wishes of the deceased as far as is reasonably and practicably possible.
Read more: What to do when someone dies
Do you need probate if there is a will?
Yes, in most cases you will need to apply for probate if someone died with a will.
The only circumstances where probate is not usually required are:
- Where everything owned by the deceased was jointly owned (usually with a spouse, civil or long term partner). All jointly owned property, land, shares or money automatically passes to the surviving owner(s) after a joint owner’s death.
- The deceased only left a nominal amount of savings or premium bonds and no other assets like a property.
To be absolutely certain that probate isn’t required, you should:
- Try to ascertain the contact details for every single financial organisation (i.e. bank or building society) that hold assets for the deceased and write to them to ask if they require probate before they will allow you to access the deceased’s assets and also ask if any assets are jointly owned.
- Contact the Land Registry (or check the Title Deeds, if applicable) to establish whether the deceased jointly owned their property with someone else (either as a joint tenant or tenants in common) or whether the deceased is registered as being the sole proprietor (sole owner) of their property.
Read more: Joint tenants vs tenants in common
How long after the death occurs is the will read?
As soon as possible after a death, and usually within a month or two.
However, a will is not officially ‘read’ (i.e. you do not have to attend a formal appointment at a solicitors’ office for them to read out the contents of the will to you). Instead, an executor will send a letter to any beneficiaries as soon as possible after the death to notify them that they are dealing with the administration of the deceased’s estate and to confirm that they’re a named beneficiary in the deceased’s will.
Although they’re not obliged to, it is commonplace for an executor to also confirm to a beneficiary what they will be entitled to receive from the estate once probate has been issued.
That said, legally speaking, only an executor is entitled to ‘read’ a will prior to the issue of probate but once probate is granted, the will then becomes a public document and anyone (including the beneficiaries) can apply to the probate Registry and pay a fee to see a copy of it.
Read more: What is probate?
Who is responsible for dealing with the Will?
One or more executor(s) named in the will (who are typically close relatives or loved ones of the deceased and/or probate solicitors) are responsible for dealing with the will.
Some people nominate a probate specialist to be the executor and others, very often with smaller, less valuable and less complex estates, are happy for a competent close friend or relative to oversee the administration duties.
There is also very often more than one executor named in the Will. For example, sometimes the testator can choose to name a probate specialist as one executor and a close friend or relative as another executor who will both jointly oversee the administration of the estate.
You might be interested in: What is a Deed of Trust?
What happens if there is no Will or if the Will is void?
If there is no will, the deceased will officially die intestate and the Rules of Intestacy will apply.
The administration and distribution of the deceased’s estate will usually be overseen by their next of kin, a close relative or friend who may have to apply for letters of administration, instead of probate, in order to deal with the estate.
If a will is declared void as it hasn’t been properly prepared and executed meaning it isn’t legally binding then, again, the deceased’s estate will be distributed according to the Rules of Intestacy and as though they hadn’t left or written a will.
How much does an estate have to be worth in order to go to probate?
An estate worth £5,000 or more may need to go to probate, but it will depend on the financial institutions who hold assets for the deceased and what their individual requirements are.
How to find out what an estate is worth (time estimate: 6 to 9 months)
An executor will need to contact all financial institutions and utility companies (etc.), who hold assets or debts for the deceased to:
- notify them of the death
- send a certified copy of the Death Certificate
- ask what their requirements are in relation to probate
- request current balances for credit or debit accounts and current values of assets
While you’re waiting to hear back from all the asset holders, you should make a list of absolutely everything that’s included in the estate and then calculate the value of the estate and prepare draft estate accounts. You can update the accounts with the information provided by the financial institutions in due course to get your final estimate of the estate’s value.
Note: If you’re dealing with the administration of an estate yourself, here’s a link to free, helpful template documents including ‘Estate and Distribution Accounts’ you can download as a Word document. If you haven’t got MS Word on your computer, you can instead download and then upload a Word document as a Google Doc to Google Drive, for free.
Once you have prepared estate accounts and have an estimate of the estate’s value, at least 20 working days prior to applying for probate, you should:
- Work out inheritance tax payable (if any)
- Report the estate’s value to HMRC, regardless of whether or not inheritance tax is payable.
Note: Inheritance Tax should be paid within six months of death. For more information about valuing an estate, visit the Government’s website for step-by-step guidance.
How to apply for probate (estimated time is 8 weeks for paper applications)
- Sending the original will and any Codicil
- Sending the original Death Certificate
- Reporting the value of deceased person's estate
- Paying a £215 fee
- Providing the Inheritance Tax (IHT) form submission date (if applicable)