The loss of a loved one could come as a shock, or maybe it was expected and to some extent, planned. Either way, there are many implications. Dealing with legal issues can send even the most mentally stable person into a tailspin and having these issues to deal with in the days following a bereavement is particularly difficult. Although coping mechanisms can, to some extent “kick-in” and adrenalin comes into play, legal terminology and procedure can be difficult to grasp when the brains “bandwidth” is reaching its capacity of information.

Many Psychologists are now using the term bandwidth to describe a person’s mental capacity. When the bandwidth is being particularly taxed, so, for example in a time of bereavement, there’s less “head-space” to deal with judgements or decisions. Thinking about it, it makes perfect sense. People often say “there is only so much you can deal with”.

Imagine for a minute a partner has passed away and all the matters which may have to be dealt with:

  • Own grief – but trying to ‘hold it together’ as there are children
  • Grief of the children
  • Funeral arrangements
  • Grief of partners family
  • Finances – mortgage payments, bills, debts, will I be able to have the mortgage in my own name?
  • Feelings of shock
  • Anger – partner didn’t keep up to date with the life insurance payments
  • No Will. “We didn’t write a will as we are in our late 40’s – we didn’t think for a second that one of us would pass away!”
  • Children’s Schooling
  • Constant stream of visitors – no time to think – feel under pressure to keep the house tidy
  • Making sure the children eat/shopping
  • Informing banks of the death and getting access to funds
  • Friends and family voicing their opinion and confusing matters

This kind of scenario is certain to make many reach their maximum bandwidth and some issues will fall by the wayside and not be dealt with. The most important and pressing matters are the ones which take up more “thinking” – so these are the issues which get thrown-out until more head-space in available. 

Going through a bereavement really requires the help of professionals and especially for legal matters. It really is worth consulting a solicitor to take the pressure off. Let someone else do the thinking and advise. A bereavement counsellor could also help to organise headspace; what is important? What is not? Deal with feelings of anxiety. Start to see a future ahead.

At a time when a person just wants to grieve, dealing with legal matters can be irritating and annoying and many feel that they are being harsh speaking about such things when they have lost a loved one so recently. Instructing a lawyer or legal expert can add some calm and relief to the tense and upsetting situation.

Probate is a word which comes up around bereavement. This is the overall process of looking after the money and belongings of someone who has passed away. In laymans terms it is the administration of the estate of the person who has died.

Grant of Probate

A Grant of Probate is a court order (a legal document) which is issued by the official Probate Registry (which is part of the UK Courts Service) to the executors of the Will of the person who has died. The executor or executors are those people who are named in the Will as being given the responsibility of carrying out the instructions in the Will and administering the estate. At some point in their life, the deceased thought very carefully about who would be the person they would trust to do this. They would also consider that maybe a partner or a child would be relieved to not have this job.

If a person dies without a Will, a similar court order is needed which is a grant of Letters of Administration and the responsibility usually falls to the nearest next of kin. Instead of executor, this person is called the administrator. Often the words “Personal Representative” are used and this simply covers both executors and administrators. Of course, if bank accounts and or property are in joint names, it is a relatively easy process to move those over to the other party.

For both the Letters of Administration and Grant of Probate, both forms, along with the process, are identical so some solicitors and legal professionals refer to them as a “Grant of Representation” – this an umbrella term used to include both types of grant.

The process is rather different in Scotland and although some of the same forms are used, the grant is called a Confirmation.

It may be best to seek some kind of legal advice. If a partner died without a Will, it may be worth thinking about making a will in the months ahead to make your wishes clear for any children and family. With a partner or spouse now departed, things may become more complicated if no Will is in place. It’s worth thinking about when the bandwidth has more available space. Having a professional onboard can give peace of mind at a time when a person is feeling particularly vulnerable.

When dealing with the matters surrounding a bereavement, it is always a good idea to download tasks and thoughts to paper as it is so easy to forget things when in a difficult situation.