What to do after a death in England and Wales?

What to do after a death in England and Wales?

Dealing With Property and Possessions

A Hand Morgan & Owen Fact Sheet

Having to deal with a person’s property and possessions after their death is a daunting prospect and will be an experience made all the more harrowing because you are dealing with such matters at an extremely sad time. The information contained in this factsheet will explain some of the duties involved, although we can provide advice at any stage.

The Personal Representative

The personal representative is the person who deals with everything owned by the person who has died. The personal representative is also known as the executor if they are named as such in the Will, or the administrator if there is no executor named or no Will.

Checking for a Will

It is important to find out if the deceased person left a Will as soon as possible after the death. The Will should set out who the executor(s) is/are and include details of what the deceased wished to happen to their money, property and personal possessions (the estate). The Will may even contain special directions by the deceased as to cremation or burial and funeral requirements.

Usually, there will be some indication as to whether or not the deceased person left a Will. The executor(s) may have been informed previously, or family and friends may have been told that the deceased person had made a Will and they may know where the original is stored. The Will may be held for safe custody in the deceased person’s bank, or in a solicitor’s safe or strongroom, or it may be in the possession of the deceased’s family.

If there is no valid Will the administrator(s) will normally be the next of kin following a set order of priority and the estate will be distributed according to set rules taking into account the rights of a surviving husband/wife, civil partner, children, parents and other close blood relatives. If this is the case, we can provide more detailed information.

Grants of Representation

Depending on the size of the deceased person’s estate and the types of assets within it, the personal representative may have to apply for a grant of representation to enable them to collect in the estate, pay the bills and distribute the estate to those entitled to it. Application for a grant of representation is made to a Probate Registry. Ask for further details if you need assistance in this. There are different types of grants of representation:

  • A Grant of Probate is issued to one or more executor named in the deceased person’s Will.
  • A Grant of Letters of Administration (with Will) is issued when there is a Will but no executor is named or the named executors are unable to apply or they do not wish to be involved with dealing with the estate.
  • A Grant of Letters of Administration is issued when the deceased person has not made a Will or a Will made is not valid.


If the whole of the deceased person’s estate is less than £5,000 a grant of representation may not be needed. Also, a grant of representation may not be needed when a house is held in joint names and it is clear that the house automatically becomes the property of the surviving owner or where there are joint bank or building society accounts.

Inheritance Tax

In large estates where Inheritance Tax is payable a grant of representation cannot be issued until the tax has been paid. HM Revenue & Customs deals with the tax. The amount payable will depend on the value of the deceased person’s estate at the date of death.

Collecting in the Estate

The personal representative will produce the grant of representation to organisations holding money in the deceased person’s name, such as banks, building societies etc. Such organisations need to know to whom the money should be paid and the grant of representation is proof that the person named may collect the money.

Paying Debts

The personal representative is responsible for paying all the deceased person’s debts, taxes and expenses. Usually, any debts, including funeral expenses, are paid from the estate and the personal representative/relatives do not have to pay them from their own funds. An exception to this would be where the personal representative/relatives have arranged a funeral and there is not enough money in the deceased person’s estate to pay for the funeral.

Distributing the Estate

Only when all expenses, debts and taxes have been paid can the personal representative distribute anything left over in accordance with the terms of the Will or, if there is no valid Will, to the people entitled to it as described earlier.

Even in the most organised and ordered estates, the process of dealing with the estate takes time due to the set procedures that have to be followed. At Hand Morgan and Owen we will always endeavour to complete the estate administration as efficiently as possible.

You may find it useful to read “What to do after a death in England and Wales”, Leaflet D49 from the Department for Work and Pensions. Hand Morgan & Owen have copies available if you would like one.

For further advice, contact our wills and probate specialists at Hand Morgan & Owen on Stafford 01785 211411 or Rugeley 01889 583871.

Updated January 2008


The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances. (50587)