An overview of the probate process for executors/trustees.
When someone dies, you may be appointed to organise what they’ve left behind (in a process known as ‘probate’). Unless there are assets abroad, the estate is bankrupt, or there is an inheritance tax liability- doing it yourself can save £1,000s.
We’ve put this guide together so you can handle probate with confidence.
The following information is relevant for executors in England and Wales.
I’m an executor – what do I do?
Executors are responsible for gathering assets, settling any bills or debts, and distributing the remaining wealth.
Rather than being seen as a daunting and overwhelming task, it can be viewed as a process of closure and fulfilling your loved one’s last wishes.
By keeping organised, it will not be as hard as you may fear. Writing out your plan, noting all important details about the deceased (date of birth, national insurance number, driving licence number and passport number etc.) and keeping records of everything you do, step-by-step, in one place can will save a lot of hassle and delays.
What to do after someone’s died
- First, you need to contact their GP. If not, contact the hospital. This is how you will get the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death.
Make a note to also inform their employer and enquire about a workplace pension when you get a spare minute.
- You then need to register the death. Registering the death should be done within five days at the register office that is local to where the death took place. You can find them here https://www.gov.uk/register-offices/.
The government has a useful tool that lets you know how you need to register the death according to your circumstances here – https://www.gov.uk/register-a-death.
Who can register a death? The person arranging the funeral, a person who lives with the deceased or anyone who was present at the time of death.
As well as the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death, it is best to take the deceased’s proof of ID and a proof of their address (it’s best to call them first to confirm what is needed and book an appointment). Be prepared to provide the following details:
- The full name of the person who died.
- Their full home address.
- Their date and place of birth.
- Details of where and when the person died.
- Their occupation.
- If they were receiving any benefits.
- The name, occupation and date of birth of their spouse.
The registry office will provide you with a death certificate. Get at least five official, certified copies -though some recommend as many as 25- (you will likely need them when interacting with organisations and they will cost more to get later).
If you didn’t get enough the first time round, you can order more copies here – https://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/
- Now it’s time to retrieve the Will. Chances are, if they’ve nominated you as their executor then they’ve told you where it is. Specific funeral wishes can be made in a will so it’s worth checking as soon as possible.
- Once you have the death certificate, you can arrange the funeral and burial. The government’s bereavement services search will connect you to the local council’s page which will have the information you need- https://www.gov.uk/find-bereavement-services-from-council
Many mosques have funeral services; their people are experts in dealing with this stage. It’s worth reaching out to the mosque you wish for the funeral prayer to be held at to see what support and guidance they can offer.
You may be able to pay the funeral bill from the deceased’s bank account (even before getting a grant of probate). If you provide the bank with a copy of the death certificate and the funeral bill, they will usually pay the undertaker directly. If not, you can be reimbursed when you have collected the assets and are settling debts (covered below).
Finding and Handling the assets
- Open an executor bank account on behalf of the estate. This is where you will collect all of the money from bank account(s) and sales of assets of the deceased once you have the grant of probate.
- Executors are responsible for the assets of an estate including any residential property. If the property is vacant for 30 days or more, you may have to take out empty buildings insurance to keep it protected. Besides that, any valuable assets should be removed and the property needs to be maintained so that it is not obvious that it is empty.
- If you can’t find all the deceased’s bank accounts, My Lost Account can find them at https://www.mylostaccount.org.uk/. This is applicable to accounts not used for 15 years (‘dormant accounts’).
- If you’re confident that there was a pension or an insurance policy that has been lost, you can use Experian’s search of it’s Unclaimed Assets Register (which has records from 75 different providers) at http://www.uar.co.uk/ for a fee of £25 each search.
- To track down any potentially lost pensions, you can search the Pension Tracing Service’s database of more than 200,000 workplace and personal pension schemes for free at https://www.gov.uk/find-pension-contact-details/
- If the deceased had life insurance, contact the provider to make a claim.
Valuing the estate
This simply means totalling up the value of all the assets and taking away the debts and bills that need to be paid. You will need this information later on.
Hopefully the Will helps map out the assets and liabilities. If not, assets they may have owned can include: personal possessions, any debts they are owed, a pension, businesses, investments, property, money in bank accounts. (Government help page- https://www.gov.uk/valuing-estate-of-someone-who-died)
Anything that is held jointly will not be included as it will automatically pass to the surviving owner(s).
Here are some tools to help you value any properties:
- Zoopla tool http://www.zoopla.co.uk/home-values/
- Government help website https://www.gov.uk/check-house-price-trends
- Rightmove https://www.rightmove.co.uk/house-prices.html
Quick tip- if you use the services of a professional for the valuation of any assets, be sure to query the fees they quote as this can lead to them being reduced!
Getting legal authority as an executor
One of the executors must apply to the courts for a ‘grant of probate’- this will prove you have the authority to sort out and distribute the estate of the deceased.
If there isn’t a Will or it doesn’t appoint an executor, any inheritor can apply to the probate registry for a ‘Grant of Letters of Administration’ to do what an executor would by being made an administrator of the estate.
If there is no will, the laws of intestacy will decide who inherits. This will not be in line with sharia but it is possible to salvage the situation.
You can rearrange the way property is shared out within two years of the death by making a ‘deed of family variation’. To achieve this, all people who would inherit under the rules of intestacy must provide consent.
If they do, the property can be shared out in line with the sharia breakdown. It’s best to get legal advice in such a circumstance – you may be able to apply for legal aid or to the court for ‘reasonable financial help’ from the estate of the person who has died intestate. This process can take time so it’s best to act swiftly.
Please note that if any of the beneficiaries are minors (under 18) or people who do not have control of their mental faculties then you will be unable to change what the laws of intestacy dictate. This is why its so important to get an Islamic will drafted ahead of time.
Do take the opportunity to call the probate and inheritance tax helpline as you work your way through, especially in deciding whether to submit the IHT205 or IHT400 form mentioned below (https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/hm-revenue-customs/contact/probate-and-inheritance-tax-enquiries ).
You will have to review seven years of bank statements as any gifts (transfers) made during that period may incur inheritance tax (our inheritance tax guide will help you make sense of things).
The forms you need to submit are:
- Probate application form (PA1P) :
- Inheritance tax form:
If the estate value is below the inheritance tax threshold, submit the IHT205 form ( https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/inheritance-tax-return-of-estate-information-iht205-2011 )
If the estate value is above the inheritance tax threshold, submit the IHT400 form ( https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/inheritance-tax-inheritance-tax-account-iht400 ).
Both can be submitted online here – https://www.gov.uk/valuing-estate-of-someone-who-died/tell-hmrc-estate-value
If a direct descendant is an inheritor, you need to submit the IHT435 as well as the IHT400 (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/claim-the-residence-nil-rate-band-rnrb-iht435 ) as there are inheritance tax breaks for them.
If it is a trust-based will and an inheritor is a vulnerable person (a disabled person or a bereaved minor) then ring-fence their inheritance for special inheritance tax treatment with the VPE1 form- https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/trusts-and-estates-vulnerable-person-election-form-vpe1
If you are submitting the forms online, you need to post the original will and three certified copies of it to the local probate registry.
If you are submitting paper forms, post them to the local probate registry (https://courttribunalfinder.service.gov.uk/search/postcode?aol=Probate): probate form PA1P, Inheritance tax form(s), An official copy of the death certificate, the original will and three copies, the application fee (£155 if using a solicitor, £215 if not- this is made to HM Courts & Tribunals Service). Estates worth less than £5,000 do not require a grant of probate.
If there is inheritance tax to be paid, this needs to be settled before the Grant of Probate will be issued- it is due within six months of the person passing away. You can pay it out of the bank account of the deceased by using the IHT423 form (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/inheritance-tax-direct-payment-scheme-bank-or-building-society-account-iht423).
If the deceased’s bank account does not contain enough money, you will have to pay yourself and then recover the money from the deceased’s estate once probate has been granted.
Handling the wealth / Money Matters
When you are ready to distribute out the estate, the first priority is to settle any debts.
Debts with companies need to be settled if there is enough money in the account for it- the family will not be responsible for any debts that the estate does not have the money to settle (unless money or assets were automatically passed to the spouse).
Any Student Loan debt will be extinguished once you inform the company of the death.
Reimbursing whoever paid for the funeral and burial (if applicable) and settle any private debts that were made known to you.
At this stage, you can finally distribute the remaining assets.
Any gifts made in the Will should be distributed first (these should not exceed 1/3 of the total estate value).
The remainder is then distributed in line with the shares determined by sharia to the Islamic inheritors (if an Islamic inheritor has passed away or more have been born, the sharia share allocations may have changed so it’s best to check in such an instance).
There may be financial support available for the surviving spouse (if they were under the state pension age when their spouse died). Encourage them to check whether they are eligible- https://www.gov.uk/bereavement-support-payment
You may be entitled to benefits, like the Bereavement Support Payment or Guardian’s Allowance. It’s worth checking whether you’re eligible.
Close the deceased’s accounts
You will need to contact organisations to inform them of the death and request the relevant account be closed.
Here’s an extensive list to help you assess which ones are relevant:
- Mortgage provider.
- Student Loans Company.
- Any rental or debts provider.
- Insurance companies (to claim on any life insurance and cancel any other policies. Home insurance can be transferred into the surviving spouse’s name).
- Pension companies (close account and claim personal or workplace pensions).
- Utility companies (close accounts, pay bills, and transfer account into the surviving spouse’s name).
- Internet and other service providers.
- Landlord (cancel rent and reclaim deposit).
- The employer (and check if there was workplace insurance in place).
- Email and social media accounts (decide whether they should be closed and deleted or memorialised. This will require you to send in a copy of the death certificate, provide details such as: the email address the deceased signed up with, proof of your identity and proof of your relationship to the deceased or your grant of probate/representation).
- Land Registry (here’s a helpful page on this https://www.gov.uk/update-property-records-someone-dies?step-by-step-nav=4f1fe77d-f43b-4581-baf9-e2600e2a2b7a)
Options to save you time:
- Use the government’s Tell Us Once service to notify most government institutions (https://www.gov.uk/after-a-death/organisations-you-need-to-contact-and-tell-us-once).
- There is a similar notification service for Banks (https://www.deathnotificationservice.co.uk/).
- Stop junk mail (http://www.deceasedpreferenceservice.co.uk/ and http://www.the-bereavement-register.org.uk/).
This article is part of our Islamic Wills FAQ series.