SECURITY OF PROPERTY/ HOUSE
One of the duties of Personal Representative (see ‘Who Should Administer the Estate’) is to protect the assets of the estate.
If the deceased owned a property that is now empty you need to ensure that this is kept safe.
You will need to notify the insurers of the property that it is empty. Different insurers have differing arrangements however generally after a property has been empty for more than a specified number of days the insurance arrangements will change.
See 'How to Find Information' if you do not know who insures the house. Once you have found details a phone call is the best and quickest way to notify.
You may be able to take out insurance for a longer period but it may require the heating system to be turned off and water drained out of the system or kept on low heat. Someone may have to guarantee to visit regularly to ensure that there are no issues with pipes etc.
You will also need to consider who else might have access to the house and whether it would be advisable to change the locks. You should collect in keys or change the code on a key safe.
If a property is empty you will need to consider arrangements for required utilities to be continued whilst you are dealing with probate or it is on the market for sale. Most buyers will expect utilities to still be connected when they purchase a property.
You can take steps to reduce utility costs but you must bear in mind any restrictions imposed by the house insurance company, for example keeping the heating on low.
Contact numbers for the big six utility providers are on the 'Who to Contact' page.
Chattels are the moveable property of the deceased and would include things like cars, paintings, clothing, jewellery and household items.
If these are within an empty property, then valuable items should be removed and placed in storage for safe keeping. You will need to ensure that they are adequately insured at the new location and that when they are removed you have a witness to your actions. A list or register of items removed should be maintained.
Chattels should not be handed over to beneficiaries until the validity of the will has been established later in the process however where family are the residuary beneficiaries (person/people who inherit ‘everything else’ in a will) it is normal to be allowed to sort out personal effects such as clothing prior to obtaining probate later in the process.
Adequate insurance cover is essential. You need to notify the insurers of the death and transfer any policies into the names of the personal representatives, or if no policies can be found effect new policies.
If the deceased owned a car again the insurer should be notified, see 'Security of Property', and it should be put on a fire and theft policy and kept off the road until it is sold or the person to inherit it collects it. A copy of the death certificate may be required. If there is a surviving spouse the insurance policy may need to be changed if they are not the policy holder but inherit the asset.
It may be advisable to get mail redirected to your home from the home of the deceased if the property is now empty. You will likely pick up useful information regarding assets and debts from re-directed mail. See ‘Setting up the file’. You will also help protect the estate from identity theft. It has been known for the mail of deceased individuals to be intercepted and their details used by criminals to open credit card accounts and loans.
When you are going through papers you may find documents that need to be returned or destroyed. Contact the relevant provider for details. For example, a bus pass or disabled badge. Disabled badges must not be used.
LOCATE THE WILL
DEPENDANTS AND GUARDIANSHIP
The deceased may have dependants which they maintain or take care of.
You will need to ascertain what arrangements have been put in place to care for them. This is often addressed in the will when there are vulnerable people in the care of the deceased.
Where the deceased has minor children the will will often deal with the issue of guardianship of those children. Such a clause will take effect from the date of death.
The persons appointed should have been consulted and agreed to act prior to the will being made and will commonly be appointed as trustees of a fund for the benefit of the children.
On death the appointed guardian takes on parental responsibility for the children.
This can be a very complex area especially if there are divorced or separated parents where there could be a 'legal parent' and a guardian at the same time.
You should take legal advice if there are any issues with care of minor children (under 18 years old).
The deceased may also have pets who will need to be looked after, there are re-homing services with organisations like the RSPCA if family or friends cannot take them.