Handling the estate of a person who has passed away can be a difficult task: aside from the emotional toll, it can also be a long, drawn-out process with many different aspects. So, how do you handle an estate when someone has passed away? And what should you think about when planning ahead for yourself?
The trick to settling an estate in an efficient manner is knowing exactly what to do, and when. The process can seem overwhelming, especially if there are high net worth items involved or tricky assets like shares to settle but by being aware of each step of the process, you can keep everything as straightforward as possible.
Here we’ll discuss the things that you should do to protect your family and your assets in the case of your own death, and then go on to talk about how you should go about settling a loved one’s estate if you’re named as an executor.
Preparing your estate so your family is protected after your death
If you’re considering organising your estate, there are certain things that you’ll need to do:
Work out the value of your estate
This is the first thing that you need to think about, and hopefully it should be a relatively straightforward process. It’s likely that you’ll need to value and add up the cost of the following:
- Any property you own, such as your home and any properties you rent out
- Any high net worth items, such as family heirlooms, art or jewellery
You should then deduct any debts you have from this amount. This will give you a rough value of your estate.
Decide how you want to split it
Who gets what? It’s a good question, and one that you need to think about carefully. First, think about who will be your beneficiaries.
Once you’ve decided whom your assets should go to, you’re in a position to decide whether assets such as property should be split, or whether certain items (for example those with strong sentimental value) should go to specific people.
If you decide to leave everything to one person (such as your spouse) you should also identify someone else to benefit from your estate, should your original beneficiary die before you.
Gather all your relevant documents / information
Before you put together a will, you’ll need to make sure you’ve got certain bits of information in place. Aside from your own personal details (full name, relationship status, current address, etc) you should also be ready to give personal details of your children, if you have any, as well as your chosen beneficiaries. Having documents such as the deeds to your house to hand may also be helpful.
Make a will
The most important thing that you need to do when it comes to settling your estate and ensuring that your family is protected is to make a will. Making a will is the only possible way to guarantee that your family and any other beneficiaries receive the assets that you want them to in the event of your death.
Here’s what you need to do, in chronological order:
- Value your estate - as mentioned above, including all property, contents, shares, etc
- Decide how you want the assets of your estate to be divided - decide who you want to be beneficiaries, and what they should get from the estate in the event of your death, and whether you want to make a legacy donation by leaving some of your money to charity
- Choose who you want to be your executor/executors - note that this person or people do not need to be the same as the beneficiary - you could set your lawyer as your executor, for example, or an older, trusted adult if your beneficiaries are children
- Write your will - ideally either using the services of a solicitor, a bank, or a professional will writer
- Sign your will - to prove that it is your last true will and testament (two people must witness this, so it is best to do it at a solicitor’s office)
- Store it in a safe place - and ideally, make sure your solicitor has a copy, too
- Ensure that your family know where the original is - and make sure they can access it after you’re gone
If you want to read more, Age UK has everything you need to know about making a will here
There are also a number of other things that you may want to do when securing the future of your estate. They may include the following:
- Make a “living will” or assign someone to take power of attorney in the case of you becoming incapacitated and unable to make decisions
- If you have a digital-first business, you may want to consider assigning a digital power of attorney who can access digital assets when you’re gone
- Take out a life insurance policy (this may already exist if you have a mortgage that you’re still paying off)
Looking for high net worth home insurance?
If part of your estate includes a high net worth property – for example, a mansion, a country house or an estate with land – there are some things that you need to be aware of.
An important thing to consider is that high net worth homes may be of unusual construction or dimensions (especially if they are old, listed and/or historic), meaning they are unlikely to fit into a standard insurance policy. Before you start looking for an insurance policy, you should make sure you have as many details about the property to hand as you can. We’d suggest starting with the year of construction.
You need to make sure that, in case of serious damage, your policy will cover rebuilding at today’s prices. This is something that is likely to require specialist attention.
For this reason, high net worth individuals and those with other high-value property will definitely want to think about taking out high net worth home insurance rather than looking for a standard policy.
You should also take out high net worth home insurance if you have high-value items within the home, which could include art, heirlooms, furs, jewellery, technology products, antiques, or anything else that brings the contents of your property above the £100,000 mark. High net worth home insurance can protect these items, as well as your property itself.
Not all high street insurance companies will have the ability to handle high net worth insurance
, or give the individual the time or specialised support they need. For this reason, you need to seek out an insurance distributor that has a team dedicated to this area, that can give you the right guidance.
Subject to eligibility and other conditions, the team at Insurance Choice can arrange the following:
- A portfolio manager and high net worth experts, dedicated to your estate
- Annual appointments to discuss your policy and high net worth insurance needs, plus a yearly renewal review
- A quick and efficient claims process, if needed
- Valuation advice
- An expert private client team
We’d highly recommend making sure, whichever policy you choose, it has the above services as standard. After all, the last thing that you want to do is take a risk with your home, or the valuable possessions that you have stored within it.
How do you deal with an estate after the death of a loved one?
If someone has died, you need to identify a few things before you start the process of settling the estate. Here’s what you need to think about and do initially.
Find out if there is a will
If there is a will, it is likely to point out executors and beneficiaries, making settling the estate a much easier task than it would be without it.
In this case an executor is the person who settles the estate, whilst the beneficiaries are those who will receive the assets. Remember, an executor and a beneficiary can be the same person.
If there is no will the person has died ‘intestate’, and you may need to seek legal advice before you progress to the next stage of the process. If a person has died young or unexpectedly and has not had the chance to draw up a will, this is more than likely to be the case.
Inform the Tell Us Once service
In the vast majority of areas in the UK, Tell Us Once service is available to those who have been bereaved and/or are settling estates. The service allows you to fill in one online form, which will inform various organisations of the death. These organisations include:
- HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC)
- The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)
- The Passport Office
- The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA)
- The local council
- Veterans UK (to cancel any Armed Forces Compensation Scheme payments, if applicable)
The registrar will be able to tell you whether Tell Us Once is available in your area when you register the death (this is something that you should do within five working days).
You’ll need the following details to complete the Tell Us Once form:
- Date of birth of the deceased
- Their National Insurance number
- Their driving licence number and vehicle registration number, if applicable
- Their passport number, if applicable
- Details of any benefits or entitlements they were receiving
- Info of any local council services they were using, like a Blue Badge
- A note of the name and address of their next of kin
- The name and address of any surviving spouse or civil partner, if applicable
- The name, address and contact details of the person or company dealing with their estate (this may be yourself)
- Information on any armed forces or public sector pension schemes they were receiving or paying into
Find out more about the Tell Us Once service here
Freeze any bills / bank accounts
You can do this by speaking the bereavement teams of the banks, mobile phone networks, building societies and utility companies that the deceased person had an account with. Many utility companies will freeze their bills for a few months, whilst some will do this for up to a year.
Bank accounts can be closed (you may need to go into the branch, taking the death certificate with you) and phone contracts will need to be cancelled.
Establish how much the estate is worth
Do this by having any property valued, assessing the assets (for example art, vehicles, jewellery, land, savings and so on) and setting this off against any unpaid bills, council tax or other debts.
You will want to take the time to ensure that you’ve gone through the deceased person’s documents and made every reasonable effort to identify any creditors/debtors that might exist.
Establish whether the estate will need to pay inheritance tax
Inheritance tax is paid at 40% on estates that are valued over £325,000. You only pay inheritance tax on the amount that is above the tax-free £325,000 threshold. So for example, if the estate of the deceased person is worth £400,000, you would pay inheritance tax at 40% on £75,000.
Find out more about inheritance tax here
Apply for probate
Probate is the “making official” of the will and the splitting of the assets of the deceased, and involves sending off an account of the assets and the debts owed by the estate. This can take the form of a balance sheet. It can be applied for online or via post (you can’t apply online if you’re in Wales).
Depending on your time and resources, and how confident you feel managing probate yourself, you can enlist the help of a solicitor at this stage. This is certainly not a requirement, though, and many people complete and apply for probate themselves.
To apply for probate you need to download the PA1P form from the HM Courts & Tribunals Service website (see and download this form here
). You will need to fill in and return it as instructed on the website, and then swear an executor’s oath that the details you’ve provided are correct.
You can either do this at your nearest Probate Registry or at a local solicitor’s office. A solicitor is likely to charge a small fee.
Once probate has been applied for, it might then take a few months for confirmation to come through. When it does, you can begin the process of splitting the assets.
You can find out everything else that you need to know about applying for probate here
Split the assets
This is the process of dividing up the assets (for example the money, property and items of value) once probate has been granted and all debts have been paid out of the estate.
There is no law that stipulates which assets should go to which beneficiary, so you’re reliant on both the will (which may specify certain assets for certain beneficiaries) and/or those beneficiaries expressing direct interest in certain items themselves.
But how do you split the assets of an estate, practically?
It might be a good idea to open an executor account with a bank, where all the money can be collected before distribution. You can then divide it up between the relevant people. Age UK advises that you obtain a receipt from every beneficiary once they receive their share, in case of disputes later (although this is not a legal requirement).
Find out more here
A final point...
The death of a loved one can be a very stressful and upsetting time. So if you don’t have the time or resources to complete any of the above, hire a solicitor to do it for you. This can eliminate errors and save you time, and is likely to be even more important if you’re dealing with a complicated high net worth estate with multiple assets.
Valuing your high net worth estate can be complicated and, as such, is one of the benefits we offer in our high net worth home insurance policies.
To find out more, call us on 01926 683036 or get a quote