What to do when someone dies; who to contact and how to get probate

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You can’t predict how you will feel when someone who’s close to you dies and it’s made worse by the fact that it may be hard to know what to do. Here’s a guide to what to do when someone dies – who to contact and how to get probate.

What to do when someone dies

There are certain things you need to do in a particular order when someone dies. For example, you will need a death certificate before you can tell the local authority and banks etc that someone has died. This guide sets out the steps to take:

1. Registering the death

When someone dies, you have to register the death within five days of it happening if it’s in England or Wales and within eight days if the death occurs in Scotland. The names and contact details of local registrars are normally available at doctors, hospitals and undertakers or in the phone book.

  • There are restrictions on who can register the death. For example, you can register it if you’re a relative, live in the house where the person died or were present at the death.
  • You’ll need to take the medical certificate (signed by a doctor). You will also need a birth certificate and marriage certificate (if the person was married) and NHS medical card if you have them. In Scotland, you should also bring documents relating to state pensions and/or benefits.
  • You will be given a certificate to say that you can bury or cremate the person who died. It’s called a ‘green form’ in England and Wales, plus a certificate of registration of death, which is used for benefit claim purposes (form BD8 in England and Wales). You can also pay for a death certificate, which is a copy of what’s written in the death register, or an extract of the entry recorded in the Register of Deaths in Scotland.
  • You will also be given a booklet with useful information. It’s called ‘What to do if someone dies’. There’s a Scottish version called What to do after a death in Scotland which you can download from the General Registers Office.

SAVVY TIP: You can get additional copies of the death certificate from the registrar.  I’d recommend getting a few. You can get extra copies later, but they’ll be more expensive. You will need to send them as proof of death before you can close accounts and you can’t usually send ordinary photocopies. Companies will accept a ‘certified copy’, which must be stamped and signed by a solicitor or someone at a bank, but these generally cost between £5 and £15 a time. There’s information on How to order a death certificate from the government’s Gov.uk website.

2. Telling government departments

When someone dies, you’ll probably need to tell HM Revenue and Customs, the DWP (if they are receiving a state pension or other benefits), the DVLA and organisations such as the Passport Office. You shouldn’t have to do this multiple times as you can use the government’s ‘tell us once’ service. You can find out more about the Tell us Once service on the Gov.uk website.

3. Telling banks and financial companies

You can use a service called the Death Notification Service, which will tell any financial institutions registered with it that someone has died. It saves time and effort involved in contacting the banks individually. You can add your notification without creating an account, although if you do create an account you’ll be told when various banks have been notified about the death.

4. Getting hold of the will

Hopefully, you will know where a copy of the will is kept or you will have a copy. If that’s the case, you should check it to see if anything has been said about the funeral arrangements. Some people limit their wills to purely financial arrangements, others are very specific about the type of funeral service they would like.

SAVVY TIP: You can read more about how to get hold of a will in my article called Getting hold of a copy of the will.

5. Arranging the funeral

When you’re arranging a funeral, your main focus isn’t likely to be the cost, but you should ask for information (in writing) about the price of the arrangements you discuss. Funeral directors are supposed to display price information clearly and provide written estimates. You may be able to get state help with funeral costs. You can read more about arranging and paying for a funeral in my guide.

SAVVY TIP:  If your husband or partner died and you had a joint account with them, you will be able to carry on using the joint account after their death so you can use that to pay funeral costs, if you need to. If not, banks will pay funeral costs directly from the deceased’s account.

6. Applying for probate (called ‘confirmation’ in Scotland)

  • If you’re an executor of the will, you need to apply for probate – the legal term is ‘grant of probate’ – which is the legal process of wrapping up the estate, paying off debts and taxes and distributing assets. You have up to one year to do it.
  • If there’s no will (which means the person has died intestate), you have to apply for a ‘grant of administration’ in England or Wales.

SAVVY TIP: You can apply for probate yourself or ask a solicitor to do it for you. If you use a solicitor, ask them whether they charge a ‘value’ element. This is a percentage of the value of the estate (up to 1%) on top of their hourly rate. It can come to tens of thousands of pounds if the person who died left behind a lot of money or property. Try and negotiate the value element or find a solicitor who doesn’t charge one.

Useful links:

The government website Gov.uk has lots of useful information on death and bereavement. If you live in England or Wales, it will also let you search for your local register office online. The NIDirect website has a list of District Register Offices in Northern Ireland while there’s information about registering a death on the National Records of Scotland website.

Related articles:

Dealing with financial companies when someone has died

When can you challenge a will? How a will can be contested

What do you do if someone dies intestate – without a will?

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