When someone dies without a will, the task of sorting out what happens to their money, property and assets will usually fall to a close family member. This person is then known as the administrator of the estate – but they will likely need an official document called a letter of administration before they can make a start.

So, what is a letter of administration, how do you get one, and what does an administrator of an estate do, exactly? Let’s take a look.


What is a letter of administration?

A letter of administration is an official document that gives the person named in the letter the legal right to access the assets, money and property of a person who’s died without a will, pay their remaining taxes and settle their debts.

For example, banks will often ask to see this document if the person who’s died had an account with them containing £5,000 or more.

A letter of administration is very similar to a grant of probate – the difference being that a grant of probate is given if the person who has died had a will. That is, unless:

  • The will is invalid.
  • No executors are named in the will.
  • The executor named in the will is unwilling or unable to carry out their duties.

In these cases, a letter of administration would still be needed.


What does an administrator of an estate do?

An administrator of an estate is responsible for sorting out what happens to a person’s money, property and assets if they die without a will.

This can include telling financial institutions about the death, applying for letters of administration, paying any outstanding debts and taxes, claiming any funds and assets that were left behind, and distributing money, assets and property to the people who are set to inherit.


What’s the difference between an “executor” and “administrator” of an estate?

An executor of an estate is someone who is named in a will as the person whose duty it is to make sure that the terms of that will are carried out.

An administrator of an estate’s responsibilities are essentially the same – they also distribute the estate – but with an administrator, intestacy law decides who gets what.


Who can be the administrator of an estate without a will?

When there’s no will, the administer of the estate should be the closest family member (“next of kin”) of whoever has died, based on intestacy law.

If the person who has died was married or in a civil partnership, this would be their spouse or partner. If not, it falls to their children, parents or siblings, in that order. You can find out more about who the next of kin is when someone dies here.

The person chosen to deal with the estate may also choose to hire a professional to carry out their duties for them. Estate administration services like Beyond can help you apply for the letter of administration, keep track of your application, and settle the whole estate for you.


Applying for letters of administration

To apply for a letter of administration, you’ll need to have the estate valued. This means finding records of all the money, assets and property held in the name of the person who’s died, including bank accounts, mortgages, insurance, shares and trust funds.

You (or your representative) will then need to use this information to fill out the necessary forms to send to your local Probate Registry:

  • A copy of the death certificate. You will get this when you register the death.
  • A probate application form. Form PA1 in England and Wales, form C1 in Scotland.
  • The correct inheritance tax form. The form you’ll need will depend on whether inheritance tax is due. HMRC can help you decide which is needed – call their helpline for advice on this.
  • An application fee.

Once the Probate Registry receives this, you’ll need to swear an oath at the nearest probate registry office or commissioner for oaths. After that, you’ll receive the letter of administration or a written explanation of why yours hasn’t been granted.


What happens after the letter of administration arrives?

Aside from the existence of a will, probate and administration are very similar processes. For more information about what comes next, take a look at our article on what happens once probate is granted.


Need help?

Estate administration can be draining, especially at a time when you’ve just lost someone close to you. If you need help and advice, or you’re looking for a professional estate administration service, give Beyond a ring on 0800 054 9896 or request a call back today.


Next in our probate series >> What Happens After Probate is Granted?

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