Bereavement: What to do when someone dies

We aim to address the main steps that need to be taken after the death of a loved one in a two-part blog post. In this article, we set out the initial steps that should be taken before going on to talk about the further steps to be taken by the executors/personal representatives in dealing with the estate.

Coping with the loss of a friend or family member is an incredibly upsetting time but add into that the responsibility of arranging the funeral or administering their estate (dealing with their assets) and it becomes a lot more challenging.

  1. Who does what?
  2. Arranging the funeral
  3. Register the death
  4. Tell Us Once
  5. Establish who the executors are


Who does what?

Family and friends normally deal with the immediate practical arrangements, such as registering the death and organising the funeral but dealing with legal matters such as notifying banks and building societies should be left to the executors named in the will. If the person didn’t leave a will, the law known as the Intestacy Rules sets out who is entitled to deal with the estate.

Arranging the funeral

Hopefully those who were close to the person who died will have some knowledge of the funeral wishes to be put in place. It is best to check the terms of the will or any funeral plans for wishes, particularly in relation to cremation or burial.

Unfortunately, during the ongoing health crisis it is difficult to fulfil normal funeral arrangements due to the social distancing rules. The Government understand it is important that funerals are not delayed, but strict measures must be followed to conduct a blessing safely. The guidance states those who may attend include:-

  • Funeral staff (including funeral director and chapel attendant)
  • Member’s of the person’s household
  • Close family members
  • If the above cannot attend, then close friends
  • A celebrant chosen by the bereaved, if they request this

Whilst there is no fixed number of people permitted to attend a funeral during lockdown, priority must be given to the requirement to maintain social distancing so that each person can remain at least 2 metres away from others.

More in-depth guidance is available from the Government here

Register the Death

Usually a death must be registered within 5 days, however this may not be possible at the moment due to the pandemic. Under normal circumstances, you are required to attend a meeting with the Registrar in person, after which he or she will issue the ‘green copy’ death certificate which records the death in official records.

You should contact a Register Office as soon as you can after the death in order to arrange an appointment. If possible, try to contact the office closest to where the person died. There are only certain people who can register a death so use this useful step-by-step here to determine if you are eligible

Use the ‘Tell Us Once’ Government service

This is a free Government service that lets you inform multiple organisations of the death at the same time, including HMRC, Department for Work & Pensions and the DVLA. It means you do not necessarily have to write letters to or ring each of them individually.

You can access the service here

Establish who the executors are

If there is a valid will, then you need to locate this as soon as you can after the death. A professionally drafted will will appoint executors who have the legal responsibility to deal with the person’s assets and close down their bank accounts etc. Normally a search of the person’s home can be undertaken but at present, social distancing rules might make this difficult. Depending on the cause of death, family and friends may not be allowed to attend the property due to risk of infection.

If you believe the person did have a will but cannot find it at home, you should contact all local solicitors in the area to find out if they are holding a will. At the moment, you will need to do this by telephone rather than visiting the offices. If you are not named as an executor they will not be able to release the will to you, but at least the executors can be contacted to let them know they are appointed.

What if they didn’t make a will?

If you know that the person didn’t make a will or have established by searching that they don’t have one, then a law known as the Intestacy Rules sets out who is entitled to apply for a grant of representation permitting them to deal with the person’s estate. They are known as a personal representative and usually, this is a close member of the family. You should not start dealing with the person’s affairs until you have established who is legally entitled to apply for a grant and become the personal representative.

Check back to our website next week when we will post part two, explaining the main steps executors/personal representatives need to take to deal with the estate.

The situation is constantly changing and the Government may bring in further guidance in due course. However, this post represents our best interpretation of HM Government’s guidance, where applicable, at the time of our writing. Both the content of the post and any guidance it is based upon will be subject to change.

Progression remains open for business with our staff working from home and able to provide advice via telephone or video calls

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