How to Administer an Estate When a Loved One Has Passed Away: Key Probate, Wills and Inheritance Tax Issues Explained

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The initial steps to dealing with the death of a close friend or family member

1. The priority is to register the death as you cannot do anything without the death certificate. The death is usually registered by the closest relative.

2. You should then start making the funeral arrangements and also find out if your relative made a will and who was appointed as executors. The will may sometimes contain directions for the funeral.

There should be a copy of the will at home and the original will usually be held by the solicitor or wills draftsman or by the bank.

What is the role of the executor?

The executor's role is to administrator the estate i.e.

(i) to obtain probate – if that is necessary(ii) close off bank accounts and investments(iii) pay off debts and inheritance tax(iv) distribute or dispose of personal effects(v) sell or transfer any property(vi) paying legacies(vii) distributing the estate amongst the beneficiaries

Who can be an executor of an estate?

Executors can be family or friends, or a firm of solicitors. Family or friends who are named as executors can also employ a firm of solicitors to administer the estate for them.

What is probate?

Probate is basically proving the validity of the will through the probate registry – which is a branch of the courts. To apply for probate you will need to supply details of all the assets and liabilities in the estate – in the application forms.

Why is probate needed?

Probate is needed to release the assets of the deceased to the executors. Each organisation (bank, building society etc) has a different limit above which probate is needed. Usually this is around £20,000. Joint assets generally pass to the surviving joint owner and probate is not needed or these.

What happens if there is no will?

If there is no will, then the relative will have died intestate. This can delay and complicate matters so you should contact a solicitor as soon as possible. The law sets out the order in which family take the estate and also who can take out the grant to administer the estate.

When is inheritance tax payable?

There is no inheritance tax payable between spouses or civil partners. Otherwise it is paid on estates worth over £325,000 or if there is transferable nil rate band from a spouse or a civil partner who has died first, then the nil rate band can be as much as £650,000. There are other reliefs and exemptions available about which your solicitor can advise. Otherwise inheritance is payable on all assets over the available nil rate band payable at 40%.

For more information on estate administration, inheritance tax, wills, trusts and probate matters contact Suzanne McCulloch, or one of our wills, trusts and probate solicitors on 01494 790002 or via email at Alternatively please visit

For further information please refer to the respective pages:

Writing and Reviewing Your Will

Probate Services

Probate Litigation / Contentious Probate (How to Contest a Will

Inheritance Tax and Estate Planning

Lasting Powers of Attorney

Court of Protection

Video Resources:

Lasting Powers of Attorney Guide