Setting Up the File
Ok, so you’ve established who can act and who is going to be the Personal Representative, either from the Will or the Rules of Intestacy.
You will need two files, one a Master Physical File and one a Master Financial Summary which can either be in a spreadsheet or on paper.
Everything is explained as you progress through the steps.
To start the process, pull out all documents and paperwork you can find at the deceased’s home address.
They may have been very organised or they may not. Depending on which applies this can often be the most time consuming part of the process.
Some people keep documents dated back many years, others may only keep recent relevant documents.
You will need to spend as much time as you need to establish who to write to, what assets and debts the deceased might have had, who their utility suppliers were, who insured their house and car.
As a starting point you need to go through papers to see if the deceased had a will in their possession, and ideally to find their driving licence, birth certificate and other documents to take when registering the death.
See ‘Registering the Death – What to take’
MASTER PHYSICAL FILE
To deal effectively with the process as you go through each stage you will need to set up a file of papers and documents for safe-keeping and ease.
DO NOT WRITE ON, HOLE PUNCH, STAPLE, PIN, OR PAPERCLIP THE LEGAL DOCUMENTS:
WILL, DEATH CERTIFICATE, GRANT, SHARE CERTIFICATES ETC
THESE SHOULD GO IN PLASTIC WALLETS IN THE FILE
The easiest way to do this is in an A4 file with many dividers. Sections you are likely to need include:
Master Financial Summary (see 'Which HMRC Form Do I Use?')
Forms and documents (Wills, Probate Application, Death Certificate, Grant)
Cars and associated finance
DWP (Department for Work & Pensions)
Funeral details and receipts
House and associated mortgage
Savings & Shares
You can obviously have as many sections and sub-sections as you need to keep track of everything.
When you are going through all the deceased’s paperwork take the most recent or up to date statement or document with all the account details and ideally a balance and put this in the Master Physical File. The remainder should not be destroyed but can be put in a sorted box to one side.
The next step is to write to everyone (see ‘Who to Contact'), or you can check online if there is an online process you can follow instead.
Keep copies of all letters sent in the file in each relevant section so you can find them easily in the event of a query.
Once responses come in you can add these to each section and update the Master Financial Summary.
MASTER FINANCIAL SUMMARY
As you go through the estate valuation you will create a Master Financial Summary. This will be necessary for both the Inheritance Tax forms for HMRC and the Probate Application Form.
The Master Financial Summary can be in Excel or on paper depending on your preference.
Always keep a printed copy on your physical file if you stop your work just in case of computer failure.
See ‘Which HMRC Form Do I Use?’.
One difficulty this modern age has created when going through the probate process is the prevalence of online accounts rather than ones where you receive a paper bill or invoice.
We are constantly told not to write down passwords but as a Personal Representative this may mean you are not able to access the information you need.
As a starting point see if you can gain access to the deceased’s phone or computer to review emails.
If you can access emails, try searching for ‘insurance’ or ‘Sky’ or ‘electricity’ etc. This may bring up results for accounts that have been created online, or bill reminders.
If you cannot get access to emails
Google have a facility to allow you to do this:
Other service providers have similar facilities. If you have ever emailed the deceased you should know who their service provider is, eg gmail is Google, icloud is Apple etc. Contact us if you are struggling in this area.
Once you have accessed email you should be able to reset passwords for online accounts eg EON, Sky, British Gas by using the deceased’s email address and selecting ‘forgotten password’.
HOW TO FIND INFORMATION
Personal Representatives have the task of gathering together all the information to identify the assets and liabilities of the estate.
It is not always easy to identify all the assets, people can store things in the strangest of places, for example in freezers and under the mattress.
Bank statements are a very good source of information as they will show regular income and outgoings.
Dividend receipts and vouchers can be used to confirm shareholdings. Tax returns should also include details of the deceased’s income from investments etc.
Start with the most recent bank statements available and get details of all companies or people payments were made to and from in a calendar month.
If the deceased had online only bank statements when you write to the bank (see 'Who to Contact') request copies of the last month (or six months) worth of statements in printed form. You can go in to the bank with a copy of the death certificate to see if they will print them for you if you explain why you need them.
There are also searches available to look for lost bank and building society accounts and premium bonds prizes and a tracing service for pensions.
You should also identify memberships and licenses that could be cancelled to obtain a refund.
Debts should also be ascertained.
These can include reasonable funeral expenses. Many banks will allow payment of funeral expenses from an otherwise frozen bank account.
Contact the deceased's bank by phone or in person to ascertain if this is available and how to do it.