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How to navigate the bureaucratic probate maze

Few people realise how the death of someone close leads the survivors into a bureaucratic maze at a time when they feel least able to take on new responsibilities. Many do not know where, or how, to start organising a funeral, or registering the death.

Step one – register the death.

If the cause of death is both natural and known, either the GP or hospital doctor issues a medical certificate of cause of death. Take this to the local register office (the number’s in the local area phone book or find a list at The registrar issues you with a Certificate for Burial or Cremation (called the “green form”) and a Certificate of Registration of Death (form BD8) if the person received a state pension or benefits. You will then be able to buy copies of the death certificate, at a cost set by the local authority. As an example, the City of Westminster charges £7 while Liverpool charges £9.

Step two – arrange the funeral

You can find a funeral director at NAFD and the National Society of Allied & Independent Funeral Directors.

Step three – notify all appropriate people


Inform banks and building societies as soon as possible to reduce the risk of identity theft and fraud. Contact the DWP and check for any pension or benefit entitlements for a surviving spouse or civil partner, or if there is any help available towards funeral costs.

Step four – the will

Workout from the will, if there is one, who is/are the executor/s. It is the executor’s responsibility to deal with the estate of the person who died; that is, everything they owned. If there is no will, or it’s invalid, the laws of intestacy apply and the person entitled to take responsibility for the estate is usually the surviving spouse, civil partner or nearest relative.

Step five – the probate

Determine whether probate is required. Probate can be required for any estate over £5, 000 held by the deceased just in their own name.

If you need probate, an executor can do the work personally or you can use a professional. A simple estate with just one asset of £35, 000 might be completed in two-three months but the national average for the probate process is six-nine months

Step six – the tax and probate forms

The PA1 form is the application for probate. Which tax form you complete, IHT205 or IHT400 depends on whether inheritance tax will be payable. PA1 and IHT205 are submitted to the Probate Registry where you will be interviewed and have to swear an oath to the accuracy of the forms. The IHT400 has to be sent with the inheritance tax due to HMRC and be paid within six months of the death. Once the grant of representation is issued you can then collect assets, pay liabilities and only then distribute remaining assets.

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