Dealing with Paperwork

Getting through all the paperwork

One of the most frustrating things any bereaved person has to face in the first few weeks after death is the endless stream of paperwork. Registering your partner’s death is just the first hurdle you have to overcome - and this needs to be done within five days of the death. Then there are bank accounts to sort out (all your partner’s accounts - except any joint accounts - will be frozen after they die). There are utility bills, phone bills and council tax bills to change into your name. There may be tax issues to resolve and insurance policies and pensions to claim. You may also be eligible for bereavement benefits.

You will find that you are spending hours explaining your partner's death to complete strangers on the phone, filling out forms and on hold to call centres. It can be incredibly soul-destroying and upsetting, especially when the person at the other end of the phone has all the sensitivity of a sloth. Some of them will insist that they have to talk to your partner in order to take their name off the account - which is obviously not possible. Others will request yet another copy of your partner’s death certificate - photocopies aren’t accepted, so it’s worth requesting as many as 10 original copies when you register the death (even if it costs a bit extra) so that you can wade through the administrative nightmare a little more quickly.

The Department of Work and Pensions did some research recently and discovered that each bereaved person had to contact dozens of different organisations after their loved ones haddied. To make things a little bit easier, the government has introduced a service called Tell Us Once across England, Scotland and Wales. This is designed to make things simpler for you, by helping you give information about your partner’s death just once to the government so that they can then share the information across all the different government agencies and departments that need to know (Department of Work and Pensions, DVLA, HMRC etc).

It’s also worth enlisting the help of a trusted friend or relative to help you plough through the mountain of paperwork - and to share some of the emotional burden too. It can be really upsetting having to explain your circumstances to complete strangers over and over again. And it’s crucial to make a To Do list - most people who are bereaved don’t find it that easy to concentrate at the best of times. But forgetting to do one thing properly can keep you in administrative limbo for even longer than necessary.

Elke Barber and her children

© Julie Broadfoot

What you need to do

The key to setting much of the paperwork in motion is your partner’s will. If your partner didn’t make a will, you will need to go through probate in order to resolve the estate, which can take quite a few months. As the legal spouse, you will be eligible to inherit your husband or wife’s estate if they died intestate. If you were not married, things can be more complicated and it’s worth consulting a legal expert to find out your rights. Any reputable solicitor will be able to advise you on your rights. You can use The Law Society’s website to find a reputable solicitor in your area, although these services don’t come cheaply. Other useful resources include the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, your local library or any independent advice centre bearing the Community Legal Service logo.

Here are just some of the other agencies you will need to contact after your partner’s death:

  • Banks and building societies (direct debits and standing orders in your partner’s name will also need to be stopped)
  • Your partner’s employers
  • Phone companies and utilities, if the bill was in your partner’s name
  • Local council – you are eligible for a 25% reduction in council tax if you are the only adult in a household
  • Insurance companies regarding any potential life insurance policies
  • Pensions
  • Inland Revenue to sort out your partner’s tax affairs
  • You will need to return their driving licence to the DVLA in Swansea
  • Passports need to be returned to the UK Passport Agency
  • If you use the Tell Us Once service, the government will contact the DVLA, Inland Revenue and Passport Agency on your behalf.

Ofcom has recently published information about notifying a phone or broadband provider of a customer’s death. Follow the link for more details about who to contact, what you will need and what to do if you would like to keep the service connected,

Often, finances can be a bit stretched in the early days of bereavement. It’s important not to panic. There are organisations that can help you. And you will almost certainly be eligible for Bereavement Benefits , which can help to tide you over in the short term – and often provide you with support over the longer term too.