Probate and inheritance - how to deal with the financial affairs of someone who has died

Probate: What to do when someone dies

14 November 2019

Death, as inevitable as it is, still leaves many of us totally unprepared for its effects. “What do I do when a friend or family member dies” is a question that none of us wants to have to ask, but one we may all have to at some point.

The last thing you want when you are grieving is the burden of administration and paperwork, but there are a few practicalities that need to be dealt with as soon as possible. Aside from locating any Will and taking common sense steps to protect assets, do not panic about who gets what yet; this can be thought about when you are ready to face the estate administration. 

Top 3 things that need immediate attention when someone dies

1. Obtain a medical certificate


Immediately, unless there is a coroner’s investigation in which case the medical certificate will be issued after that. 


If the deceased died in hospital, the hospital will be able to provide the medical certificate. If the deceased died at home, then ask for the medical certificate from the deceased’s GP.

Any costs?

The medical certificate is free.


2. Register the death


You will need to register the death within 5 days in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  In Scotland it is 8 days. 


Each territory has its own registration entity:

Any costs?

To register a death is free.

To obtain a death certificate will cost between £9 and £12 depending on where you are. We suggest obtaining additional copies at the start, as it is usually cheaper and easier to do so at this point. Having several copies of the death certificate will allow you to correspond with various organisations simultaneously when the time comes to dealing with the estate.

What will I need?

Before you register the death you must have the following information;

  • Full name including any previous names (e.g. maiden name)
  • Medical certificate with the cause of death
  • Date and place of birth
  • Last residence address
  • Occupation
  • Full name, date of birth and occupation of their surviving/late spouse or civil partner if they were married


3. Arrange the funeral


Funeral arrangements for your loved one will evidently be high on the priority list. Although it is a distressing time, it is ok to the take time to find the right funeral director and/or crematorium.


Most funerals are arranged by funeral directors. When you choose a funeral director, check if they are members of a trade organisation such as the National Association of Funeral Directors or the Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors, because member of these associations sign up to codes of practice and complaints procedures.

What are the costs?

The deceased may have included specific funeral requests and left money directly for the costs in their Will. If there are no specific funds allocated to the funeral, you should not feel pressured to spend a lot of money to show your affection and respect.

Likewise, do not necessarily feel you have to scrimp on this, especially in larger estates where inheritance tax (IHT) is payable, not least because  HMRC allows the offsetting of ‘reasonable’ mourning and funeral expenses against the IHT tax bill.

A cremation is usually less costly than a burial. Asking family and friends, as well as comparing prices in the market, should assist you to keep costs proportionate.


Next steps

Notifying Government departments


Soon after death


The main governmental departments include:

  • Passport Office – cancel the passport
  • HM Revenue & Customs – annual income tax and capital gains tax
  • Department for Work and Pensions – stop any State pension and benefits
  • Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency – cancel driving licence, update car registration documents
  • Local Council – pause Council Tax and update the electoral register


You can use the free Tell Us Once  service, which in many areas notifies all relevant departments at the same time. This service will save you the trouble of contacting each department.

What will I need?

  • Name and date of death of the deceased
  • Unique reference number given to you when you registered the death
  • National Insurance number of the deceased
  • Details of the individual dealing with the deceased’s estate

If you are contacting these departments individually, you will need to provide them with the death certificate.



If there is a Will, most times it will be in safe storage with the firm that prepared the Will (often a law firm). Failing that, try all the usual places the deceased might have stored an important document. It is very important to ensure you keep the original Will safe once you have located it.

If the deceased did not have a Will, then the intestacy provisions will apply and the distribution of the assets will be in accordance with a set formula.

In either event, you will need to apply for probate in order to administer the estate.   The next blog in our series will cover this topic.


Further information

For further information on the issues raised in this blog, please contact a member of our private client team.

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We welcome views and opinions about the issues raised in this blog. Should you require specific advice in relation to personal circumstances, please use the form on the contact page.

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