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HMRC internal manual

Debt Management and Banking Manual

Pre-enforcement: consider the defaulter: deceased customers: when a person dies

When a person dies, normally one or more persons (personal representatives) are appointed to:

  • administer the deceased’s estate
  • realise their assets
  • pay their debts
  • distribute any balance to beneficiaries.

Sometimes usually because the size of the estate is extremely small (less than £5,000), cases arise where:

  • the deceased has not left a will
  • it is considered inappropriate to obtain letters of administration (or confirmation in Scotland).

In such instances the person deemed to be the personal representative will depend on the circumstances of the case. Generally this will be a family member who may have paid for the funeral.

Under normal circumstances the personal representatives will settle the estate in the following order:

  • pay funeral and administration expenses
  • pay debts
  • distribute the balance of the estate according to either:

    • the deceased’s will
    • the rules of intestacy.

A jointly-owned property does not form part of the deceased’s estate. However, if the estate is subject to an insolvency administration order on the application of a creditor, a trustee in bankruptcy may have access to the value of an interest in the jointly-owned property passing by survivorship on the death of the debtor.

England, Wales and Northern Ireland

Personal representatives should obtain a grant of representation, usually either:

  • a grant of probate, if the deceased left a will; those dealing with the estate are called executors
  • letters of administration if the deceased did not leave a will (that is, they died ‘intestate’), or a will is not proven (registered); those dealing with the estate are called administrators.

As a general rule the personal representatives are allowed a year from the date of death or grant of representation to account for the distribution of the estate (though the estate may be settled before then).

The personal representatives may advise that distribution is to be made on a given date by publishing a notice in:

  • England and Wales under Section 27, Trustee Act 1925 in the London Gazette
  • Northern Ireland under Section 28, Trustee Act (NI) 1958 in the Belfast Gazette.

Both gazettes are online at .

This avoids being pursued for estate debts not disclosed by the given date.


Confirmation gives the personal representative (executor) of a deceased person’s estate the power to administer (wind-up) the estate. Confirmation is obtained by petition to the sheriff of the area in which the deceased last lived. The personal representative must lodge an inventory of the deceased’s estate and the deceased’s will (if they left one) with the petition before confirmation can be granted.

The personal representative can disburse the estate funds after the expiry of six months from the date of death. Therefore before the expiry of this six month period you must supply the personal representative with details of your claim or your provisional claim.

Note: If you do not do this and the personal representative subsequently disburses the funds, you will have to look to any beneficiaries for payment from the proceeds they may have received from the estate.


You can only disclose information about a deceased person’s affairs to the personal representatives. If you receive an enquiry from another party, for example a family member, refer them to the personal representative.