Sorting out an estate
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.
How your estate is arranged
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 do this, for example your partner or grown-up children.
Sorting out an estate involves:
tracing all the things you owned and all your debts
reporting these to HMRC and paying any tax that’s due
getting probate, or confirmation in Scotland
settling any unpaid bills and other debts
tracking down beneficiaries (people who should inherit anything from you)
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 has been granted, stating the amount you owned and owed when you died. This is known as probate or confirmation.
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 few weeks. But in more complicated cases it can take many months, and in some cases years.
Some money and possessions can go straight to your beneficiaries without waiting for probate/confirmation. These include:
money or things you held jointly as joint tenants, for example money in a joint savings account
the payout from life insurance held in trust
a lump sum from a pension scheme where you have chosen who should receive it.
For guidance on sorting out an estate and paying tax, visit gov.uk or call the Probate and Inheritance Tax Helpline on 0300 123 1072.