Steps to follow
If a relative has died and you’re in charge of sorting out their affairs there are a number of people and organisations you need to inform starting with the family GP, and then other relatives and, if relevant, HMRC, the Department of Work and Pensions and the Benefits Office.
You need to register the death within 5 days – preferably at the register office in the area in which the person died. Documents you need to take with you include: medical certificate of the cause of death (signed by a doctor); birth certificate; marriage/civil partnership certificates; NHS Medical Card.
The registrar will also need to know: the deceased’s full name at time of death; any names previously used; date and place of birth; last address and occupation; details of surviving spouse or civil partner; what benefits they received.
If the cause of death is not clear, sudden or suspicious the death may be referred to the coroner by the doctor, hospital or registrar. The coroner may decide to investigate further and a post mortem and/ or inquest may be required – registering the death, and thus the funeral, has to wait until the coroner's investigations are complete.
When the death is registered the registrar will give you a Certificate for Burial or Cremation which allows the body to be buried or cremated and a Certificate of Registration of Death (form BD8), if the person received a state pension or benefits. You can also buy one or more Death Certificates at this point which will be needed by the executor/ administrator when dealing with the person's affairs.
Contact the deceased person’s solicitor as soon as possible and get the will read (if there is one) - this will tell you who the executors are and if you need to make any special requests for the funeral (although you’re not obliged to carry these out).
A body must be either cremated or buried and you can either organise this yourself or with the help of a funeral director. Friends or your doctor should be able to recommend a funeral director – make sure they are a member of the National Association of Funeral Directors or the Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors.
If you're a surviving spouse or civil partner, contact the Department for Work and Pensions to see if you’re entitled to any bereavement benefits.
If you are named in the will as an executor, you may have to apply for probate (particularly if property is part of the estate). This gives you the legal authority to distribute the deceased’s estate as detailed in the will. If there is no will or it’s not valid, you could be an administrator and will usually need to apply for letters of administration instead.
Your job as a personal representative (executor or administrator) will involve: gathering all the deceased’s relevant financial documentation; sending out copies of the death certificate to whichever bodies hold the deceased’s money; freezing bank accounts and opening a bank account on behalf of the estate; preparing a list of assets; paying out money owed by the estate and collecting money owed to it; calculating and paying inheritance tax; sharing out the estate, as set out in the will or according to the rules of intestacy.
As a surviving relative of the deceased you may need to make a new will - ask a solicitor about this.
What to watch out for
If you are acting as an executor and administrator the estate, you should get legal advice if the estate is complicated (eg if there is children under 18, foreign property, trust funds or a business involved or there is likely to be a dispute over the will). If you’re not an executor and administrator but you think the people who are aren’t doing the job properly, again consulting a solicitor is a good plan. The legal fees can be paid for from the estate or you may qualify for legal aid.
Solicitor’s top tip
If you’ve been named as an executor in a will but feel you can’t or don’t want to do it, you can fill in form PA1 and appoint someone else to apply for probate for you. If you don’t even want to appoint someone else to act for you, you can refuse to act, provided the person who made the will has died and you’ve not already started to deal with the estate. You need to buy and fill in a form of renunciation which must be filed at the probate registry with the will.
Find your local register office
National Association of Funeral Directors
National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors
Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management
How to get access to and manage the estate of a deceased loved one
Choosing a wills and probate lawyer
Changing or cancelling a will
I need a will
Living together wisely
Writing a will
I need help with an elderly relative