What to do after a death: the next steps

When someone dies, there are legal obligations that must be followed. In the midst of grief, loved ones are often grateful for the guidance of the professionals. Doctors, carers and the emergency services can provide invaluable support in pointing you in the right direction. In the UK, a death has to be registered within 5 days (8 in Scotland) and to do this, you will need a death certificate; this will be provided by your hospital doctor or GP. The initial aftermath of a death can be an understandable whirlwind and, thankfully, there is no immediate requirement to deal with the will, money and property straight away. Such matters are notoriously lengthy and rely on the laws and application of probate.

Essentially, probate refers to the legal process whereby a will is proved and the subsequent ability to hold representation over someones estate. What this means is that somebody (the executor) is given legal rights to access bank accounts, collect monies from the sale of property, pay debts and distribute assets to beneficiaries. Usually, the wishes of the deceased are detailed in their will, where they give a signed declaration as to whom they wish to oversee their affairs in the event of their death. Often a grant of representation or the recognition of the deceaseds representative is fairly straightforward. Where a Last Will and Testament is in force, the law will endeavor to remain true to the deceaseds wishes.

Before such allocation of the deceaseds estate, any debts will need to be paid; this would include mortgage/rent, credit cards and utilities. Thereafter, the named beneficiary of the will such as the spouse could expect to receive any savings or balances in joint accounts, along with automatic ownership of joint assets such as property. There are, of course, more complications if someone dies without a will, known as intestate. Sometimes, these can be the most tragic cases, often when someone dies unexpectedly. In such cases, only spouses, civil partners or close relatives are allowed to inherit the deceaseds estate. This division of a person?s estate relies on legal rules rather than individual wishes; a friend, distant relative or other acquaintance would find it difficult to gain a grant of representation.

In the event of someones death, it is immeasurably preferable for a will to be in place. This gives the best chance of the deceaseds estate being managed and distributed in the way that they would have wanted. In such cases, probate allows the legal recognition of the preferred executor and processing of the estate in the most agreeable way. Where a will has not been written or is inadmissible in court, the laws of probate seek to protect the deceased and advocate their likely beneficiaries.

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