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Whatever you leave when you die is called your estate. It’s made up of everything you own (or your share of things you own jointly) minus everything you owe.
If you make a will, the executors (who you appoint in your will) have the job of sorting out your estate. If there’s no will, usually your next of kin - for example, your partner or grown-up children - do this.
Sorting out an estate involves tracing all the things you owned and all your debts, reporting these to HMRC and paying any tax due, getting probate (confirmation in Scotland), settling any unpaid bills and other debts, tracking down beneficiaries (people who should inherit anything from you), and possibly selling a property and other possessions.
Your executors can either do the job themselves or hire a solicitor to help with some or all of the tasks.
Your estate can't be distributed to your beneficiaries until a certificate stating the amount that you owned and owed at death (known as a probate or confirmation) has been granted.
The time it takes to get probate or confirmation will vary depending on the circumstances. If the estate is straightforward, it may only take a matter of weeks. However, in more complex cases it can take many months, and in some cases years.
Some money and possessions can go direct to your beneficiaries without waiting for probate/confirmation.
For guidance on sorting out an estate and paying tax, visit gov.uk| or call the Probate and Inheritance Tax Helpline on 0845 302 0900.
Content last reviewed: 1 April 2013
Next planned review: 2015
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