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Introduction

This content applies to England

A brief explanation of what happens when a person dies and explains the relevant terms.

All the possessions and property of a person who dies are known as their estate. When a person dies, the estate is usually passed on to surviving relatives or friends, either according to instructions in a will, or, if there is no will, according to the rules of intestacy. If there is a will, it will usually name one (or more) executor, who have responsibility for dealing with the estate according to the instructions in the will.

Vesting is the passing of the deceased person's property to another person upon their death. When someone dies, if there is a will, her/his property vests in the executor(s) until legal authority is in place to enable the executor to dispose of it. If there is no will, the property initially vests in the Public Trustee until such time as legal authority is obtained.

Before any of the estate can be disposed of, legal authority must be in place. This legal authority is known as a grant of representation. There are two types of grant of representation:

  • probate, when someone is named as an executor in a will
  • letters of administration, where there is no will or the will is not valid, or if the named executor is unable or unwilling to act.

Both of these grants are issued by the Probate Registry. Letters of administration are granted to one or more administrator(s). The executor or administrator is known as the personal representative

When a person dies and has a joint legal interest in land or property with another person (such as a joint tenancy), that interest passes automatically to the surviving person. This is known as the right of survivorship .

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