What can the family do?

There’s a wide variety of work required in the administration of an estate, from the date of death until the final distribution and wind-up of the estate. Whilst much of this is work completed by the estate lawyer, as well as the executors and/or trustees, there’s quite a lot that the family can do to help. This may not only save some money, but it may also help the family feel involved in the estate ‘business’ and help them with the grieving process.

Provide useful information

Family members usually know the deceased’s personal background in terms of assets and financial investments, employment history and any possible benefits due to him or her, their liabilities and memberships of clubs and organisations that may pay out funds such as friendly societies, freemasons’ lodges, etc.  More significantly, family members will have access to the deceased’s home
and will be able to go through the relevant paperwork and locate many of the relevant documents. There’s a checklist on Pages 41–42 that will help you get these documents together. Put all this material into a folder or boxes and bring everything (whether you think it’s relevant or not) into the estate lawyer so all assets and liabilities can be ascertained and recorded.

It’s worth noting here that some people keep their affairs neat and tidy, and it’s easy for the family to find all the relevant documents that are needed to administer the estate. Some others, however, are not particularly orderly and it can take the family some time and effort to find all the papers that are needed.  You may find all sorts of documents and may not be sure if they’re relevant or not. When in doubt, bring in all financial information that can be located, even if it appears old or out of date. The estate’s lawyer will be able to track everything and ensure the executors can get a full picture on the estate’s assets and liabilities.

Don’t worry too much if it takes your family some time to locate everything: estate lawyers are used to this happening. There are sometimes a few surprises – good and not so good – and sometimes you can be very amused at what you discover. You won’t be the first family to find a shotgun in the linen cupboard, or ownership papers for a previously unknown property down the back of a sofa!

The family can also provide a useful overview of the deceased’s life, details as to where they were born, who their parents and siblings were, husbands, wives, partners, children and grandchildren and details of any adopted or stepchildren. They can also provide information on the deceased’s friendships, and whether there’s any possibility of them having had work or services carried out
(such as housekeeping) for which they may have made promises to reward in their Will.

Do feel free to ask any questions of the estate lawyer. It’s good to discuss the estate, and sometimes things crop up that wouldn’t otherwise have seen the light of day.