Money and Law - The ultimate debt

The stresses and strains after a loved one dies can lead to confusion about what to do first: make sure you keep this handy eight-point guide safe.

“Death is a debt we all must pay.” In so saying, Euripides was not referring to the financial burdens of life but to the fact that in the end, the price for enjoying life is the final sacrifice that must be borne by each of us. 

Arguably one of the hardest parts of practising as a solicitor is having to help families cope with the stresses and strains that arise when a loved one pays their ultimate debt. Many people trying to administer someone’s estate after they have died can either easily overlook important issues that need to be dealt with, or make mistakes that can be costly to put right. 

That is where the professional adviser can prove to be so useful, but we find that many potential clients are either daunted by the prospect of using solicitors or do not have time.

The eight most important things to think about when someone dies are:

Find out if the person left a will – there may be funeral instructions in the will itself or in other papers kept with the will. It will also tell you who is responsible for administering the estate and who is to get what.Contact a funeral director to start making the funeral arrangements and make an appointment with the local Registrar of Births, Deaths & Marriages to register the death.Get together details of all the person’s financial and property affairs that need to be sorted out. Contact those institutions with a copy of the death certificate and obtain values at the date of death for probate purposes.Assets abroad (holiday home, a bank account in Spain) can be a problem for an executor in this country. Investment accounts in the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man are also outside the UK for probate purposesInheritance Tax is an obvious difficulty that can arise. Working out whether tax is payable can be complex and if it is, very often tax has to be raised before a Grant of Probate is obtained.Grants of Probate can be a challenge to get. Not all estates need a Grant; it all depends on what is in the estate and every case is different. The Grant lets everyone know who is responsible for winding up the estate and allows the executors to realise assets and sell property.Family arguments abound and it is not always easy to bring objectivity to solving what can be emotive problems. The key is good communication; without it, solutions rarely arise.Accounts – executors must prepare and keep accounts of all financial transactions they carry out on behalf of the estate. They must never mix estate monies with their own personal monies and must be able to produce a set of balanced accounts to the residuary beneficiaries at the end of the administration.


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Stephen Beck is a partner of Whitehead Monckton and head of, the firm’s complete online estate administration service. He specialises in most aspects of wealth management and advises on the drawing up of wills, administering estates and trusts, lasting powers of attorney and receiverships.

For further information 01622 698000 or 01580 765722.