The death of a close friend or family member can be distressing. Despite this, the responsibility of funeral arrangements and handling some of the practical tasks, in particular the administration of the estate may fall on you, so it’s important you know what to do.
Tracing the will: The first practical step to take is to track down the last will made by the person who has died. This is to ensure their latest wishes are followed. There is no national database of wills, so the first place to start would be amongst their personal belongings and papers.
It may be that they used a solicitor or bank to write their will. Either might be storing it on their behalf. Therefore check with any solicitors or banks used by them. Also check with their close relatives and friends. This is because they may have asked one of them to take responsibility for carrying out the instructions made in their will (known as the executor). If they did that person may know where the will is kept.
The will then needs to be checked to ensure it is legally valid and prepared in accordance with the applicable rules, such as being made without the person who died being put under pressure, whilst they had the necessary mental capacity and was properly signed and witnessed.
Deciding who’s responsible for sorting everything out: The person or people (known as the executor or executors) with this role need to be identified. They will have legal authority to administer the estate of the person who died. This means they are responsible for sorting out their property, possessions, investments, money and debts:
If the person who died left a will they will usually have named the person or people they wanted to take on this role and carry out their wishes in accordance with their will. The person appointed is called an executor.
Where there is no will, the law sets out rules to determine how everything should be sorted out and who should get what. These are called the intestacy rules. Under these rules, it will usually be the nearest blood relative who takes legal responsibility for administering the estate. They are called the administrator and will need to be formally appointed by the court.
Register the death: The person taking legal responsibility (executor if there is a will or closest relative if there was no will) should contact the registrar of births, marriages and deaths. It is the registrar responsible for the area in which the person died, who needs to be contacted. Their details can be found in the phone book or online. The staff at the registry office will help with the process.
Funeral arrangements: Once the will is found, it should be checked to see if there were any special requests made concerning the funeral arrangements. There may also be details of a pre-paid funeral plan stored with it. If not, your local funeral directors will be able to help with issues such as the service, floral tributes, making arrangements for burial or cremation, newspaper announcements and arranging a reception or wake (including catering). After a burial they can give advice on having a headstone. Where the estate has sufficient funds, it can be used to pay for the funeral before other debts are paid.