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Managing wills and probate can be complicated, so here is a guide to the steps you will need to take – whether you are working with a solicitor or doing it yourself.

If your loved one had a will: You’ll need to apply for a grant of probate

The probate process: how long does probate take, and who can do it?

Obtaining a grant of probate allows you to access your loved one’s assets and distribute them in accordance with their will. The executor of the will should apply for probate within a few months of your loved one’s death, as it may be necessary to access and close certain accounts that your loved one held. The probate process can vary in length, but on average, administration takes 6-9 months.

You don’t need it if:

You are likely to need probate if any of these apply to you:

To find out the thresholds for probate, contact the account provider(s). If you do need to apply for grant of probate, follow the steps in our guide below:

Step 1 – Estimating the value of the estate

Step 2 – Do I need to pay Inheritance Tax?

Step 3 – Applying for probate and next steps

If your loved one didn’t have a will: You’ll need to apply for a letter of administration

What is letter of administration and who can do it?

Obtaining a letter of administration allows you to access your loved one’s assets and distribute them in accordance with their will. The executor of the will should apply for probate within a few months of your loved one’s death, as it may be necessary to access and close certain accounts that your loved one held.
In this situation, the person who deals with the estate is usually the deceased’s next-of-kin, such as a spouse or child. You should apply for a letter of administration within the first few months of your loved one’s death if you need to access or handle their accounts.

You don’t need it if:

You are likely to need a letter of administration if any of these apply to you:

To find out the thresholds for removing assets from your loved one’s accounts, contact the account provider(s). If you do need to apply for a letter of administration, follow the steps in our guide below:

Step 1 – Estimating the value of the estate

Step 2 – Do I need to pay Inheritance Tax?

Step 3 – Applying for a letter of administration and next steps

It’s normal to feel a lack of motivation after losing a loved one, and sorting through their belongings can seem like a daunting task while you’re grieving. Perhaps you’re unsure what to do with everything or how quickly you need to get it done. We’ve put together some suggestions to help you decide what to do with the rest of someone’s belongings after they die.

Remember that your loved one may have left some of their belongings to named people in their will, and you are legally obliged to carry out their wishes. You might also need to consider other family members when deciding what to do with the belongings not mentioned in the will.

Packing up the house

Packing up the house after losing a loved one can be both physically and emotionally demanding. Most people have accrued many items throughout their lifetime, and sorting through them can be quite a big job. You might want to emotionally prepare to discover sentimental items and relive memories of time spent with the person who has died. It can help to ask other family members to accompany you for support, or you might prefer to look through meaningful possessions alone before asking for help with furniture and general belongings.

There is no time limit on when you have to pack up the house, so if it feels too much, delay it until you feel ready. Just remember to check whether there are any financial implications of waiting, such as ongoing mortgage repayments.

Once you have gone through your loved one’s belongings, you can decide what to do with the items. Here are some of our suggestions:

Sharing possessions with family

You are likely to come across many items that have sentimental value rather than monetary value, and you can discuss who will keep which items with your family members. This process can be a lovely way to hear about each other’s memories with the person who has died, and you’ll often find that items have a different meaning for each person.
If you need help deciding how to share out items, everyone in the family can have a pack of stickers and can stick them onto the items they’d like to keep as they go round the house. You can then discuss any overlaps and come to a decision.

When sharing out items with monetary value, some families allocate an equal ‘allowance’ to each person and place a price or value on each item, which they then ‘bid’ on. This works best when family members get on well and can keep it lighthearted.

Donating items to charity

After sorting through your loved one’s belongings, you’ll probably have plenty of things you could donate to charity. Choosing a charity that meant something to your loved one can be a nice way to honour their memory. Or, you might want to support organisations that helped care for your family member in some way, such as a local hospice or Age UK.

Before taking your donations to the charity shop, find out which items they will or won’t accept. For safety reasons, many charity shops won’t accept electrical goods and will only accept furniture with fire safety labels still attached (If you do have electrical goods, Cancer Research UK is one of the few charities that will take them, but they don’t accept white goods).

Charities say that they appreciate clothing, accessories, homeware, linen and books, as they sell particularly well. Some charities will come to collect larger items, such as wardrobes and beds.

Another option is to sell items, then donate the money you raise to the charity as a cash donation (they can also claim gift aid if you’re a taxpayer).

Selling items

You may have items that are in a good, saleable condition that you decide to sell; this could be anything from large furniture, like wardrobes and dressers, to smaller items like clothing or crockery. eBay and local social media selling sites can be good places to list items for sale. For smaller, less valuable items, you might decide to hold a car boot sale.

Once you have sorted through their possessions, you need to decide what to do with their house. You need to check whether they owned the house outright or if there is an outstanding mortgage to pay to the bank. After this, you might decide to keep their house, to either live in, rent out or sell. We’d recommend taking advice from a solicitor. before making a decision, particularly if family members disagree on the best option.