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When someone dies, you will need to inform their pension provider. You may be able to claim from their pension depending on your loved one’s age, your relationship to them and the type of pension account that they held. 

State Pensions

Accessing a State Pension should be done within the first 12 months after your loved one’s death. Often state pensions will stop being paid after the person dies, but in some cases a spouse or civil partner can inherit some of the pension.

  1. Notify the Pensions Service that your loved one has died. This can be done via the Tell Us Once service that notifies all government organisations, or by calling the Pensions Service helpline on 0800 731 0469.
  1. Assess whether you can claim your loved one’s pension. This can only be done by a spouse or civil partner. You can contact Gov’s Pension Service to check what you can claim (you may be able to claim extra benefits if you meet the criteria): https://www.gov.uk/contact-pension-service

What you get/how you claim depends on whether you reached State Pension age before or after 6 April 2016.

If you reached State Pension age before 6 April 2016

If you reached State Pension age on or after 6 April 2016

Personal or workplace pensions

Accessing a Workplace Pension should be done within the first 12 months since your loved one’s death.

  1. Check through their paperwork to see if they had a workplace pension scheme
  1. Contact the pension provider to find out how much they had and what to do next
  1. Find out if the pension is either a Defined Contribution pension or a Defined Benefit pension. If you are unsure what type of pension they had, you can contact their employer to ask. Read more about how to do this here [link to other article]

Defined Contribution pensions 

Defined contribution pensions, also known as a ‘money purchase’ scheme, allows an individual to build up a pension pot whilst in employment. This pot is used to pay out an income once they reach retirement age, based on how much the person and/or their employer contributed, and how much this pot has grown. 

If your loved one had not yet retired, any beneficiaries can usually withdraw all the money as a lump sum and set up a guaranteed income (annuity), or set up a flexible retirement income (drawdown). This might not always be possible, so check the conditions of the pension. 

Different tax rules apply when inheriting a defined contribution pension, and it depends on whether the person died before age 75. 

If your loved one died before age 75:

If your loved one died after age 75:

Defined benefit pensions

A defined benefit pension pays an individual an income based on their salary, and how long they worked for their employer. These are less common, and tend to only apply to public sector or older workplace schemes. Each scheme is different, and any money paid out to any beneficiaries will be outlined in the rules of the pension scheme. 

This type of pension often pays out a ‘dependant’s pension’ to anyone financially dependent on the deceased, including a spouse or civil partner,  a partner the deceased wasn’t married to or in a civil partnership with, and/or child(ren) under 23. This payment is a percentage of what your loved one was getting, or would have received if they had not yet reached retirement age. This income is often taxable. 

If the pension was a small amount, it can often be paid in a lump sum. 

If your loved one had not retired: 

If your loved one had retired: 

Lifetime allowance

If the total value of your loved one’s pension contributions is more than the lifetime allowance, you might have to pay tax on any money you inherit from this.

The lifetime allowance changes every year, but for the tax year 2021/22 it is currently £1,073,100.

As the average UK citizen has six jobs in their lifetime, keeping track of a pension or multiple pension schemes can prove difficult. This article will help you locate any potential lost pension accounts. If you think you have all the accounts, click here for more information on accessing the pensions your loved one held.

Is the pension lost?

Before 1988, it was not a legal requirement for employers to automatically enrol employees into pension schemes. Therefore, if you cannot find pension records for a job your loved one held, they may have not been eligible, or had their contributions refunded.

Tracking down a lost pension

Most pension providers send a statement every year. Look through your loved one’s paperwork to see if they kept any of these documents. If you can’t find this, there are few ways in which you can find out whether they had a pension. 

Contact the pension provider 

If you know your loved one held a pension with a certain provider but you can’t find any further details, contacting the provider directly may provide you with some answers, including the value of the pension pot and whether your loved one nominated a recipient for any death benefits.

Contact them with as many details as you can provide, including:

Contact your loved one’s previous employer

If you don’t know which pension provider your loved one had an account with, their former employer should have the answer to this. 

Contact their former employer with the following:

It is also good to find out whether the pension plan was a defined benefit or defined contribution plan, as this may affect your eligibility to access your loved one’s pension. 

Contact the Pension Tracing Service

If you’re struggling to find the answers, the Pension Tracing Service is a free government service that searches a database of over 200,000 workplace pension schemes to find the details you need. 

You can call them on 08007310193, or start an application online.

Other places to try:

What is Inheritance Tax?

Inheritance Tax is a tax you have to pay upon inheriting the estate of someone who has died, including all of their property, possessions and money. It needs to be paid by the executor. Inheritance Tax must be paid or partially paid before probate or letter of administration can be granted, although there are some exceptions. Inheritance tax is sometimes referred to as Capital Gains tax.

What is the threshold for paying Inheritance Tax?

You will need to pay Inheritance Tax if the estate is valued at over £325,000. Usually, anything over this threshold is taxed at a rate of 40%. However, there are many exceptions to this.

For more information: gov.uk

There are many other possible assets that might need to be added to the value of the estate to comply with estate law. These include interests in trusts (which might have arisen on the earlier death of a spouse), transfers of value within the last 7 years, or gifts made at any time where the person who has died retained some kind of benefit in the asset given away,  An example of this might be putting a house in the name of children, but continuing to live there or visit on holiday.

Typically, no Inheritance Tax is due if:

You are obliged to file a report with HMRC even if there is no tax to pay. You can do this here: gov.uk

If you don’t need to pay Inheritance Tax, skip to Step 3: Applying for Probate or Letter of Administration

Where do you get the money to pay?

Banks or building societies may release money out of your loved one’s account before probate or letter of administration has been issued if it is being used to pay Inheritance Tax directly to HMRC. If you are paying Inheritance Tax on property, HMRC may accept staggered payments spread over a period of time. If you pay the Inheritance Tax out of your own money, you can get a refund from the estate once probate has been granted.

How to pay:

  1. Value your loved one’s estate (Step 1)
  2. Decide whether it is likely that you will need to pay any Inheritance Tax based on the information in Step 2
  3. Report the estimated value of the estate to HMRC (even if you will not need to pay Inheritance Tax)
  4. If you think you need to pay Inheritance Tax, apply for a reference number. This needs to happen at least three weeks before you make a payment.

Feeling a bit stuck?

Sometimes getting a professional to take over helps moves things along. We offer a range of solicitors who can help take away the pressure of dealing with estate law and wills.

Next Step: Applying for Probate or Letter of Administration