Steps for executors to take when handling a loved one’s estate

By Pippa Thompson

Dealing with the loss of a loved one is never an easy task, especially when coupled with going through the complex process of sorting out their estate.

To help ease this pressure and make this less daunting, QualitySolicitors have produced some advice for executors to help guide them through the probate journey.

  • Don’t bury your head in the sand – this can be easy to do when you are appointed as someone’s executor, as no one wants to think about losing a loved one. Unfortunately, by ignoring the matter you are making things harder for yourself in the long run. If possible, make sure you have those potentially difficult conversations early to ascertain exactly what estate you will need to sort out and where key documentation is located.
  • Get organised – preparation is key when you are made an executor, so gather as much intel as possible early on from the testator (the person whose estate you will be handling). This should include matters such as what bank accounts they hold, any investments they have, where their property deeds are kept, any insurance policies they hold etc. It’s also advisable to come to agreement on where all this paperwork will be kept so it can be easily accessed when needed.
  • Register the death and arrange the funeral – you have to register the death with a registrar within five days in the UK and will need a death certificate from a doctor to be able to do this. Once this is done, you can then arrange a funeral – it’s possible to do this yourself, although some people use a funeral director to help ease the pressure. Some people may have a preference on how the ceremony is run – i.e. if it is religious or not, so make sure you ask this question when you are running through the documentation with your testator.
  • Contact authorities – you will need to contact a number of official organisations such as HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), Department for Work and Pensions and the local council to notify them of the death. They will then be able to work out how much tax or benefits are payable, which will be claimed against the estate. It’s advisable to seek legal help for this, as you could receive penalties if your calculations are wrong.
  • Settle any debts – as an executor you are in charge of settling any debts, so make sure you contact any utility companies, insurers, phone companies, landlords, mortgage providers etc to notify them of the death. If the testator has a car you will need to return this to the DVLA to cancel any tax and to enable car ownership to be transferred.
  • Apply for a grant of probate – you need to apply for ‘grant of probate’ to be able to close down the necessary accounts and transfer any assets. You can do this by going through the Probate Courts. If there is not a will in place, you will need to apply for ‘letters of administration’ instead. If this is the case, you will need to prove you are a spouse, close relative, child or parent to be able to do this.
  • Don’t rush payments – don’t be pressurised into rushing through payments until you are 100% sure all bills and tax have been paid. All costs will need to be claimed against the estate, so it will be an in accurate representation if you split this out too quickly.
  • Don’t forget digital – given people increasingly live their lives in the digital space, you must remember to access online accounts too. These could be online banking sites, such as Paypal, sites like eBay, email and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.
  • Seek advice – being an executor can be a time consuming and daunting task, but remember you don’t have to go through the process alone. At QualitySolicitors, we offer a range of different support options, as well as free first advice if ever you want to chat anything through.

Find out more, visit or call 0800 999 7070 for Free First Advice.

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