When a person dies the nearest relative to the deceased should find out if there is a will. If there is no will click here.

A will is a legal document drawn up and signed in the presence of witnesses which states what should happen to a person's estate after their death. It often also includes wishes regarding the funeral and burial. For this reason it is as well to locate the will as soon as possible after death. To find the will try looking through personal papers, at the bank, with the deceased's solicitor and friends and relatives.

Once the Will has been located the executors will need to be appointed. They are the people named in the will who will be responsible for dealing with everything owned by the person (the estate).

Sometimes there are problems with a will, for example if the executors cannot be appointed for any particular reason or there is a dispute over the wishes of the deceased. If there are problems you may have to apply to Prove the Will and should seek legal advice from a solicitor.

Duties of The Executors

Please note that in Scotland when Probate Registry is refered to you will need to contact your local sheriff court commissary office instead, and a Grant of Probate is know as a Confirmation. You should also check with the Capital Taxes Office regarding inheritance tax and related issues.

1. Open a Personal Representative's bank account. This is used for the receipt of any monies due to the estate and to pay Inheritance Tax and Probate fees if applicable.

2. Inform all relevant people and organisations including relatives, people mentioned in the Will, banks, building societies, local authorities, insurance companies, Inland Revenue and the Benefits Agency.

3. Arrange for a valuation of any property and its contents including jewellery, savings plans, trusts and life policies, then draw up a schedule of all the deceased's assets. This will be needed when applying for Probate.

4. Draw up a schedule of debts that need to be paid from the estate including mortgages, bills, credit cards, loans and overdrafts.

5. Fill out any forms required by the Inland Revenue so that it can be established whether Inheritance Tax is due. Note that you have to inform HMRC of the death even if it is below the threshold. There is further information on Inheritancve Tax on the Government website. Click here to complete the relevant forms online.

6. Apply for Probate. You can find out about applying for Probate on the Government website which includes links to the relevant forms. When Probate is issued copies will need to be sent to everyone who owes money to the estate so ensure you order enough copies. The executors have a legal authority to pursue any debts owed to the estate.

7. Once Probate has been granted the executors can divide the estate as per the instructions in the will. They will need to sign accounts showing who has received what and they must show that they acted in accordance with the terms of the will in case of any queries raised by family members. All documents must be stored safely for twelve years.

 
In the Absence of a Will...

Before assuming that there is no Will you should take every possible step to find one. Look through personal papers, phone and write to solicitors, check with the bank, ask friends and relatives and search the Principle Registry online.

If you have exhausted all of these avenues and are certain that there is no Will then the Rules of Intestacy set out who should administer the estate and who inherits what.

The closest living relative will be responsible for administering the will. This is according to the following order:

1. A spouse (they must still be legally married, not cohabiting or divorced)
2. Children of the deceased over 18 years of age (or their descendents if deceased)
3. Parents of the deceased.
4. Brothers or sisters with the same parents (then half brothers and sisters)
5. Grandparents
6. Aunts and Uncles (full blood first i.e. same mother and father, then half blood)
7. The State (referred to as the Crown) if there are no surviving relatives

The administrator acts much the same as an executor and will need to apply for Letters of Administration in the same way that they would apply for probate (see above for details).

When there is no will the estate (everything the person owned) is shared out according the Administration of Estates Act which sets out who will get what. Click here for further information on Intestacy.