The person responsible with looking after the affairs of the deceased (called ‘executor’ or ‘administrator’) must deal with their money and property (known as ‘estate’). They are responsible for paying the deceased person’s taxes and debts, and distribute his or her money and property to the appropriate beneficiaries.
Dealing with small estates and immediate debts
If the deceased person left a monetary amount worth £5000 or less in his/her estate, it may not be necessary to obtain a grant or letters of administration to withdraw funds from their bank account or financial institution. This can be useful if the money is needed from the deceased’s estate to pay for immediate costs such as funeral, mortgage or house insurance. Different banks and financial institutions have their own procedures regarding the proofs needed to release the funds, as well as how much they can release to the person acting on behalf of the deceased.
If the deceased individual held several different bank accounts, holding a total value of up to £5000, then it still may be possible to access the funds without a grant of probate or letters of administration. This again depends on the policies of the individual bank involved.
If the grant is not required, the bank may request the executor or administrator to sign an indemnity. This protects the bank, in the event that the money has been released to the wrong individual.
Accessing a deceased person’s property
Property covers a wide range of physical and non-physical assets. These include: houses, real estate, shares, antiques, jewellery, works of art, as well as intangible property such as patents and copyrights.
If the property was held in the sole name of the deceased person, and they left a valid will, the property will usually pass in accordance to the will. If the deceased left no will, or if the will did not cover the property, then it will be dealt with according to the law of intestacy.
If the deceased held the property with another person or persons, the executor or administrator is required to find out how the property was owned. In case of a house, there should be documentary evidence of the type of ownership.
Jointly owned property
If the property was owned jointly between the deceased and another party as ‘beneficial joint tenants’, the deceased person’s share automatically passes to the surviving joint owner. Joint property is not part of the deceased person’s estate on death, but the value of their share is included when calculating the value of the estate for Inheritance Tax Purposes.
Dealing with pensions
Different pension schemes have different rules and conditions. The executor/administrator is require to contact the relevant scheme to which the deceased was subscribed to and find out the following:
Whether the death benefits are payable
If there is a pension for spouse, civil partner or children
If any of the investments become part of the estate under a self-employment pension scheme
Its worth noting that an ex-spouse or former civil partner may have rights to some of the pension, depending on the terms of divorce or settlement.
Life insurance policies
It’s advisable to contact the insurance company as soon as possible. They will provide all the necessary information and any documents that they require before they fulfil your claim.
Always carefully check the due amounts, and to whom they apply under policy before you sign off on the money. Also, make sure policies are still in force, and how much they are worth, before committing to funeral costs.
Debts owed to the deceased
The executor or administrator can be responsible for collecting any debts owed to the deceased.
Estate bank accounts
It’s a good idea to open a separate ‘estate account’ with a bank or building society, so that all transactions relating to the administration of the estate can be recorded. Beneficiaries can then go to the court and seek an order that the executor/administrator provide them with a full inventory of the estate and a copy of the estate accounts.
Protection from identity theft
Fraud and identity theft is an issue when dealing with the estate of deceased persons. You can prevent this by applying for protective registration.