Disputes over the division of estates post death are not uncommon. However, executors are now also facing another issue when it comes to the Department for Work and Pensions or DWP as they are most commonly referred to.
Following the passing of a family member or relative, it is essential for all of the deceased’s debts to be cleared before any assets or estates can be passed onto the appropriate beneficiaries. This is known as a statutory notice, which provides information to any relevant creditors and informs them, within a 2 month period, where they can submit any claims to the estate.
Unfortunately, it is very unlikely that the elected executors will have extensive knowledge when it comes down to the deceased’s financial history or personal affairs. The issue with this, of course, is that limited knowledge can restrict the executor’s ability to address any issues surrounding the estate following the date of death.
Such debts include the DWP who aren’t automatically covered by the statuary notice as outlined above. The problem with this is that the DWP may continue to make additional payments (means-tested) towards state pensions or in some cases, even include cover for a post-death period. Owing to the fact that the above are repayable to the DWP and can often be applied for at a later date, it is advisable that all executors (where possible) delay the distribution of any estate until the DWP has confirmed in writing that it has no claims towards the estate.
If you have already received a letter from the DWP enquiring about the deceased’s assets and liabilities then this means that they may have been in receipt of a means-tested benefit such as pension credit or income support which is subject to an individual’s income and savings.
However, these letters are not uncommon and shouldn’t worry you as it simply means that the DWP will conduct an independent investigation to ascertain whether claims for sums paid in error need to be repaid. You are, of course, entitled to request a breakdown of the monies owed and an explanation as to how this debt may have been incurred by the deceased.
How can you assist the DWP in the event of an investigation?
You can assist the DWP by providing as much information as possible of all the relevant assets and liabilities at the date of death. They may request further information if this is required or inform you that no further action is necessary.
Here is a list of some of the relevant documentation that you may require and tips on how you can apply for access.
- Bank statements that cover several years – You can request these statements directly from the deceased’s bank provider or building society.
- Banks and building societies are legally obliged to hold onto accounts information for a minimum of 6 years and can provide information on open and closed accounts.
- Relevant paperwork for any assets.
- Documentation should be sent to the DWP in relation to any savings accounts that the deceased may have had.
- Remember to send the DWP photocopies as they can’t be held responsible for any original documents that may get lost in the post.
Are the DWP allowed to request further information from the executors?
In simple terms – yes! The Social Security Administration Act 1992 section 126 enables the DWP to request further information and evidence regarding any assets that the deceased may have had in order to carry out a thorough investigation, which provides them with the relevant data enabling them to ascertain if the deceased received overpayments of any means-tested benefits over the course of their lifetime.
How to avoid additional issues
Whilst it can be frustrating for executors and any beneficiaries during a lengthy investigation, it is particularly important that executors do not divide the estate until the investigation has reached a satisfactory conclusion by the DWP. Otherwise, they may be personally liable for repayments that could reach thousands of pounds in the event that there is no money remaining following the distribution of the estate.
What should I do if I have already distributed the estate and receive a claim from the DWP?
If the estate has already been divided among the beneficiaries and the DWP concludes that sums were paid in error and, therefore, require repayments, it is advisable that you contact the relevant parties and request for the funds to be repaid pending the investigation by the DWP and explain the reasoning behind this.
How can I avoid this situation?
If you have access to online services then you can use a service called Tell Us Once via the government website. This service will require some information on the deceased and may not be available in your area, so it is wise to double-check if in doubt.
Providing you have all of the relevant information and access then the service will inform the following departments:
- DWP to ensure that any benefits are cancelled.
- HMRC for personal tax.
- Passport office to cancel passports.
- DVLA to cancel a licence and ensure that they are removed as a registered keeper for up to 5 vehicles.
- Local councils will be informed to cancel housing benefits, council tax benefits and address any issues surrounding local council services such as blue badges or the electoral register.
More information can be found on the government website. It is important to note that this will simply avoid any overpayments after the date of death and thus won’t cover you for any debts incurred during their lifetime. It is advisable in all cases to wait for full confirmation from the DWP as mentioned earlier.
How can our Probate experts help?
If you are an executor and require legal assistance then our experts at Probaters can provide a wide range of services from fixed fee probate right through to probate valuations and probate for businesses. Our extensive knowledge covers small estates to larger, more complex estates for high profile individuals.
Moreover, because we solely specialise in probate law we can guarantee that we will provide a high level of service to help you in your time of need. So, if you would like some help navigating the minefield of probate, contact us today on 0845 034 7344. Alternatively, you can send us an enquiry online via our website.