3. Understand the estate
Find out where accounts are held
If there isn’t one prepared already, you need to make a list of all the companies the deceased had a financial relationship with. You might need to look through their paperwork, bank statements and internet bookmarks.
You are looking for things like:
- bank, savings, investment, and credit card accounts
- property deeds and mortgage provider details
- insurance and pension firms
- recent tax papers
- any recent or outstanding bills
Notify companies and value the estate
You will need to close accounts and transfer or sell assets. You should make sure to ask for the date of death balance/value from the company. You will need this information to work out the total value of the estate.
Companies will likely ask to see the death certificate.
You may be able to get quick access to money in bank accounts if the balance is under their ‘probate threshold’.
Make a note of the value of any debts, too.
After notification, sole accounts will be frozen and joint accounts will become sole accounts in the name of the survivor.
Before they will let you deal with the asset, some companies may insist on seeing official paperwork from the Sheriff Court called a ‘grant of confirmation’ (this is the Scottish version of ‘probate’). It’s quicker and cheaper if you don’t need this so try and get them to make an exception.
If applicable, you need to check the title deeds of a property to see if it has already passed to someone else by way of a 'survivorship destination'. A survivorship destination is a clause sometimes used in Scottish property titles. It means if two people bought the property and the survivor is still alive then the title passes to them on the date of death.
The title deeds should say something like “jointly between X and Y, and to the survivor”. If this is the case then you won’t need a grant of confirmation to deal with the property.
If there is still a mortgage in place, the provider should have the title deeds, although there may be a copy in the house or with the lawyer who was involved in the purchase. You could ask either of these parties to tell you if there is a survivorship clause or not, but try and get a copy anyway to see for yourself.
Business or foreign assets
It is highly recommended to seek legal advice where there are business interests or foreign assets in the estate. In the case of businesses, you should also get in touch with the deceased’s accountant if they had one.