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Issues of wills, inheritance, tax and the winding up of the affairs of the deceased go beyond what this basic consumers’ guide to funerals can cover. For many of these issues, some sort of legal advice may be required.


It is important to find the will as soon as possible. This is a legal document or a signed letter left by the deceased giving instructions on what should happen after his/her death and how the estate should be divided. Look amongst personal papers at home, in the bank, with the deceased’s lawyer/solicitor, or with relatives. Whether or not the will is found, the next stage is the appointment of executors/administrators.


And remember, the will states the wishes of the deceased. It might state:

  • what the person wished to happen to their body
  • whether they wished to be buried or cremated
  • whether they wished to donate their organs
  • what sort of funeral they wanted
  • which person should be appointed as an executor, responsible for paying debts and dealing with the estate of the deceased
  • what should happen to the deceased’s money, property and possessions (the estate)
  • which person is nominated to act as a guardian to any children.

If there is no will, the personal representative shares out the estate according to rules that consider the rights of a surviving spouse, children, parents and other close blood relatives. For details contact the probate registry.


The person who deals with everything owned by the person who died is known as the personal representative (also known as the executor if they are named as such in the will, or the administrator if there is no executor named or no will). In Scotland a personal representative is known as the executor.

If you are a personal representative you may have to apply to prove the will (probate) or, if there is no will, apply for letters of administration, or, in Scotland confirmation. This will give you permission to pay the bills and deal with the estate. The leaflet ‘Do you need a grant of probate ’ states the circumstances under which probate may be required and gives phone numbers for all probate registries and sub-registries. The leaflet is available from registrars (Registration in England and Wales, Registration in Scotland and Registration in Ireland) and Citizens Advice Bureau. The leaflet and much other probate material can also be found at (publications are under forms and leaflets). In Scotland the relevant forms can be obtained from the local sheriff court commissary office.

Probate registries (staffed) are listed under P in the business numbers section of the phone book. If there is no probate registry in your phone book, ask at your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

The personal representative is responsible for paying all the deceased’s debts, taxes and expenses. They make the payments from the estate, not from their own income or savings. Only when these duties are finished can the personal representative share out the rest of the estate.


In the event of death the tax office should be notified as soon as possible.

The Inland Revenue produces a leaflet, IR 45, ‘What to do about tax when someone dies’. The information in this leaflet is also available on their website at


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