How to sort out money and personal belongings after a death

Most people leave behind some possessions when they die, which might include money, property and personal belongings, and together these things are called their “estate”. These are usually passed on to family, friends and people or organisations such as charities that your friend or relative has specified.

Did they have a Will?

The process you need to follow in order to deal with their estate depends on whether they made a Will. They may also have left further written instructions in letters, known as “letters of wishes”.

Before doing anything else you should search for a Will and any accompanying letter of wishes. If there is no Will, or if the Will is invalid for some reason, or doesn’t deal with their entire estate, then there are intestacy laws that determine how your friend or relative’s estate will be distributed.

Executors and probate

If your friend or relative left a Will, this should say who will be responsible for dealing with their estate. These people are called the “executors”.

Their role is to find all the assets, pay off any taxes and debts, and distribute any leftover money, possessions and property to the deceased’s heirs in accordance with the instructions in their Will. Before doing this the executors need to get the court’s permission to deal with the estate.

This is called a “grant of probate”, or in Scotland this is called “confirmation of the estate”. If there is no Will, the Will is invalid or it does not specify executors, the person who deals with the estate is called the “administrator”. Usually this is a close relative, such as a husband or wife, child or parent. The administrators will need to apply for “letters of administration”, instead of a grant of probate.

If the deceased lived in Scotland, this document is known as an “executor dative”. The wills, probate and inheritance pages on the UK Government website provide an explanation of the formal processes you need to follow as well as forms and other information that you need to complete.

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