Whether the death of a loved one is sudden or expected, it leaves you with the same legal and financial matters to deal with. These may be the last thing on your mind, but knowing exactly what you need to do can make things a little easier. We can help with a guide to sorting out the essential tasks.
Find out if you’re the executor
The deceased person should have a written will where they appoint an executor to carry out their wishes. This person is given the legal power to deal with financial issues after their death like paying any outstanding debts or tax. They’re also responsible for dividing up their estate, which are assets like property, savings and personal belongings – according to their wishes in the will. The act of settling an estate is called probate.
When a person dies without a will in place, their assets are considered legally to be ‘intestate’. In this case the court will often appoint an executor to deal with the estate.
If you’re not listed as the executor, it can be hard to complete some of the issues on this list. That’s why it’s important, if possible, to make sure the person has a will in place before they die.
How to register and notify a death
One of the first things you need to do is register the death. The government website will take you through the things you need to provide. In the UK this should happen within five days of a person dying. Once registered, you’ll pay a small fee to get the death certificate. This gives you legal proof you’ll need to notify banks and other organisations that the person is deceased. It can be helpful to get more than one copy of the death certificate.
A useful way to notify all government departments like HMRC, DVLA, Department of Work and Pensions is to use the Tell Us service.
How to notify us if they were an Aviva customer
If the person who died was an Aviva life insurance customer, you can notify us and begin a claim here.
If the deceased had a pension or savings product with us, please call 0800 015 1142. We have a dedicated, UK-based team who'll be able to help you.
If the person who has passed had a different Aviva product, you can find more information or get in touch with us by visiting our help and support section.
Making funeral arrangements
Directions for their funeral should be in the person’s will, including whether they’d like to be buried or cremated and any religious service they may want. If not, you’ll have to decide what to do. You can choose to arrange the funeral yourself, but most people hire a funeral director, who’ll handle most of it. You may need to contact their place of worship to set a date for their funeral and arrange details they want like hymns, readings or music. Funeral planning may also include arranging a burial plot or buying a lasting memorial like a headstone. Funeral costs are considered a priority debt, so they’re paid from an estate before some other debts or tax.
In some cases, the person may have prepaid for their funeral in total or have a payment plan in place. So, you may need to look through their paperwork to check if this is the case. If there isn’t sufficient money in the estate and you’re a beneficiary of their life insurance, an early payment can often be made to cover the costs.
Dealing with money after someone dies
Sorting out finances after a death is important, both to carry out the deceased’s wishes and to make sure that the people left behind are taken care of.
Handling finances after a loved one's death: practical tips
Pension: if the person who passed away had a pension, it's worth checking whether benefits can be transferred to their spouse, civil partner or other beneficiaries. If the pension holder hasn’t named a beneficiary, the pension trustee will investigate until they decide who should get any payment. We have more information on what happens with different pension benefits.
You can also get help with the details of the deceased person’s pension by using the government pension service.
Tax: HMRC will usually contact the executor within a month of death registration with instructions and may require a tax return for the person who has died. You can find further information on the government website. There may also be tax allowances to claim or transfer to a surviving partner.
Depending on the size of the estate, Inheritance Tax (IHT) may also be due. There is more information on whether you’ll need to pay IHT here.
Bank accounts: You can notify the bank using the death certificate as proof. With a joint bank account, the other account holder can usually keep on using it, but you must still let the bank know of the death. If the account was solely in the name of the deceased, the bank will freeze it, until the funds can be distributed according to the will. However, money can be released for urgent expenses such as funeral costs, inheritance tax, and probate fees.
Employment: If the person was still employed, they may have had ‘death in service’ cover, which is a work benefit that could offer a tax-free lump sum to the family or beneficiaries. Contact their employer to find out about this.
Debts: When someone dies, outstanding debts are usually paid off using their estate. These debts include anything from rent, credit card balances and car loans. It's important to find out about any debts early on since the estate must settle them in this order:
- Secured debts such as mortgage repayments
- Priority debts like income tax and council tax
- Unsecured debts such as credit cards and utility bills
Inform the creditors about the death and your involvement as executor in handling the estate to avoid them growing due to non-payment. Individual debts held solely in their name can be paid from the estate's value. Joint loans pass to the surviving partner or guarantor. If there aren't enough assets to cover debts, the estate is considered insolvent, and they are written off. Family members can’t be held responsible for outstanding debts.
Mortgage/rent: If they owned a property with a mortgage, it doesn't automatically transfer to the surviving spouse or partner. The lender will need to assess if the beneficiary can afford the mortgage payments in their own name. Identify the lender and contact them as soon as possible.
You should check if there's a life insurance policy connected to the mortgage but remember to inform the lender while the claim is being processed. If the person was privately renting, notify the landlord - they may be able to transfer the lease to the spouse's name. Also, remember to transfer utility bills like gas, electricity, water, and council tax.
Government benefits: If they were below State Pension age, their partner may be eligible for financial support from the government. The Bereavement Support Payment offers a lump sum followed by up to 18 monthly payments. You can find more information on the government website.
If you find it difficult to deal with the estate of loved one, you can reach out to professionals such as financial advisors or solicitors specialising in probate – although there will be a charge for these services. If you’re struggling with bereavement the NHS also has more resources that could help.