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Practical advice if you’re faced with a family bereavement

Practical advice if you’re faced with a family bereavement

Unfortunately many of us, at some point in time, will find ourselves with the responsibility of dealing with someone’s estate.  Dealing with the loss of a loved one is never easy and having to deal with administrative matters at a time when we are grieving can seem overwhelming.  It can seem quite daunting the first time we have to deal with matters such as sorting through papers and contacting organisations, such as banks and building societies, insurers or utility providers, following the death of a close friend or family member.  Should you find yourself in this position some things to think about and deal with include:

Register the death

A death requires to be formally registered. Since the pandemic it has been possible to register deaths over the phone.  The registrar will arrange a suitable time to call you and will tell you what information you need. Such an appointment can only take place when you have the medical certificate relating to the death. Therefore, if a post mortem is required, the death cannot be registered until this has taken place and a medical certificate has been issued.  

If you have the birth certificate, any marriage or civil partnership certificates, National Insurance Number, passport, and details of any funds they received from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) you should have these to hand when you register the death. These documents will enable you to use the “Tell us once” system, which notifies multiple government agencies of the death without you having to contact each department individually.  The “Tell us once” system has removed a lot of the administrative burden from families and we would recommend that you use this if you are able to.

Following your phone appointment, you will be sent an abbreviated death certificate in the post, along with a certificate that enables a cremation/burial to take place. Full death certificates can be obtained for a small fee – we would advise that you purchase at least one full certificate.

Arrange the funeral

Your loved one may have left instructions as to which undertaker they would prefer you use. However, if they have not, the funeral can be arranged with the undertaker of your choice. The undertaker will require to see the certificate issued from the registration office relating to the burial/cremation.  Whilst you can make contact with the undertaker and start dealing with the funeral arrangements prior to registering the death, the funeral cannot proceed until the death has been registered and the certificate enabling the burial/cremation to take place has been issued by the registrar’s office. As such, the funeral arrangements may not be able to be confirmed until the certificate has been obtained.

If your loved one arranged their funeral prior to their death, dealing with the funeral arrangements should be straightforward.  A funeral plan may have been put in place which will mean that the funeral has been prepaid.  If the funeral has not been prepaid, banks will release funds from a bank account to pay for a funeral.  If you are arranging a funeral, contact your loved one’s bank or speak to your solicitor before you settle the funeral invoice yourself. Many people find discussing funeral arrangements difficult so if your loved one has not advised you of their funeral wishes, you may wish to look out their Will (if they had one), as this may specify their funeral wishes. This can be located using our tips below.

Locate Will (if there is one)

A Will is the document which sets out how someone wishes their assets to be distributed after they die. It is therefore important that this is located.  It may be a copy was kept at home, which will provide details of where the original is held. This will also confirm who has been appointed as the Executors – the person(s) responsible for administering the estate.  

If you cannot find a copy of a Will, and do not know which firm of solicitors they might have used during their life, you should contact local firms of solicitors to query if they have the Will.  The solicitor will normally only discuss the details of the Will with the person who has been named as Executor.  

If you find there is no Will in place, a solicitor can assist and provide advice on the application to the Sheriff Court to have an Executor appointed.

Gather information

If you require assistance to deal with the affairs of someone who has passed away, you should phone a solicitor to arrange an appointment. 

You should then begin to check through any financial papers to try and locate information on any assets owned at their death. Often this information will be found by locating bank statements and other letters. The solicitor will need copies of everything you find.  Bank statements will likely disclose direct debits, enabling you to contact any utility providers and inform them of the death. Many of the large companies, including banks and utility providers, have dedicated teams to handle queries following a bereavement.   

If there is a house, it is important that the buildings and contents insurer is contacted to enable cover to continue.

The above information is a starting point for dealing with an estate. Should you find yourself having to administer an estate and you need advice, please call or email us to find out how we can help.  Our team are very experienced in dealing with these matters and can help you deal with all the legal issues involved relieving you of as much stress and anxiety as possible.  Contact us on 03330 430150.

About the author

Lorna Christine
Lorna Christine

Lorna Christine


Wills, Trusts & Succession

For more information, contact Lorna Christine or any member of the Wills, Trusts & Succession team on +44 1382 723176.