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JGM, Solicitor
Category: Law
Satisfied Customers: 12092
Experience:  30 years as a practising solicitor.
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The bare bones question is: what happens when a man dies alone

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The bare bones question is: what happens when a man dies alone in England and the family does not get involved arranging to the disposal of the estate?
My brother-in-law, age in the upper 60’s, is seriously ill in hospital in England right now, and so this has given rise to some discussion about what to do in the event of his death. He has no immediate family in England. Two siblings, including my wife, live in North America.
My brother-in-law is on disability pension, and he is in the care of social workers and his housing is provided by the local council, according to my wife.
He has lived a frugal life and has very little in the way of assets. We have a copy of a will dated 1997 that names a law firm in England as executor. It is not clear that law firm specified is still in business: an internet search seems to indicate a new law firm that taken over the original firms practice.
Given that he has minimal assets, we feel there is no need here to get involved in what might be significant cost ( including travel to England) and time to attempting to dispose of the estate. We would rather spend our money to visit him in his last days before he dies. But what are the legal ramifications. Who takes over disposal of the estate in the absence of family involvement? Do we have legal obligations from a distance. The only thing we would be interested in doing is arranging a decent funeral sake of local friends and relatives. Assuming the new law firm has taken over the one listed in the will, and has a copy of the will, can they refuse to be the executors? We have a letter from the original law firm acknowledging they have a copy of the will in their files.
Thank you question.
The family has an obligation to arrange the funeral. Only the executor has a duty to wind up the estate. If there are no assets there is no need to wind up the estate and there is certainly no obligation on the family to do so. The named executors in the will do not have to take up office.
Happy to discuss further.
Please leave a positive response so that I am credited time.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

I'm not clear about your reply. Is there an actual legal obligation wife here in Canada to pay burial even though she may not travel to England or take any other action with respect to the death of her brother?

And what happens if no one is willing to be an executor?

Although in practice it's unlikely to be enforced, the executor or family has a duty to arrange and pay funeral. Family means close family, parents in the case of a child and spouse in the case of a husband or wife. I doubt a sister in Canada would be pursued costs. If the siblings don't arrange and pay funeral then it will be left to the local authority to do so, ie, the so called "paupers funeral".
The family don't have to get involved in the winding up of the estate. That matter would eventually result in the estate being made over to the Crown.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Do to time zone challenges, I have not yet contacted a UK funeral service or the named executor in the UK. I am overall satisfied with your answer, but I will hold off doing the rating until I have done the above in case the resulting discussion requires raises a point that requires further legal clarification.

Customer: replied 3 years ago.

My wife has phoned the hospital several times today. Two incidents today give rise to a further question:

Even though my brother-in-law has been conscious and has been spoken a few words over the phone, and very briefly answered some questions, the duty nurse asked my wife if the hospital should take extraordinary action to resuscitate him should his 'heart stop', saying he may not be in a state to accurately express what he wants. My wife answered 'no' to taking extraordinary measures.

Then later, we asked the hospital chaplain to visit my brother. The chaplain reported that the floor matron/nurse interjected during the visit that the next of kin would be responsible the death certificate--not sure why the nurse got involved. Then the chaplain himself added, in speaking to my wife, that the next of kin, my wife, would be expected to take responsibility the ensuing expenses at death, added further that if one is in, then one is committed to 100% of all costs-- there can be no partial commitment. I take this to mean that one cannot arrange a funeral service without also taking responsibility other costs, such as burial, disposal of personal property, etc.

The above two incidents, prompted my wife to ask if the question about resuscitation was a ruse to trick her into accepting responsibility as next of kin, even before any death has occurred. What is your opinion? has my wife already made herself culpable burial and funeral expenses?

No she hasn't. If she doesn't organise the funeral she isn't responsible . If she does she's responsible to pay if her brother has insufficient estate to pay .
JGM and 2 other Law Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Thank you