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Does the Investigation of Cause of Death Affect the Winding up of an Estate?

January 4, 2023 By Libby Pearson Wills, Executry & Probate

The Winding up of an Estate following a bereavement is already a daunting process. And when a death requires investigation into the cause of it, this poses particular challenges.

34% of all deaths in England and Wales were reported to the coroner in 2020. In Scotland, deaths are reported to the procurator fiscal. Given these figures, it is useful to know exactly how the involvement of these professionals affects the winding up of an Estate.

First, who are the coroners and the procurator fiscal? Most think that they are the medical professionals that physically carry out post-mortems, but these are pathologists. Coroners and procurator fiscals are actually independent judicial officers appointed by the Crown. Their role is to investigate any deaths reported to them with a view to determining the cause of death.

There are a number of situations in which a death would be reported to them. Namely:

  • a doctor did not treat the person during their last illness
  • a doctor did not see or treat the person for the condition from which they died within 28 days of death
  • the cause of death was sudden, violent or unnatural
  • the death occurred in any other circumstances that may require investigation

Once a death has been reported to them, they will make the necessary inquiries to ascertain the cause of death. Sometimes this is as simple as talking with a doctor and their inquiries are concluded swiftly. On the other hand, sometimes this will involve the likes of ordering a post-mortem examination, obtaining witness statements and medical records, or holding a coroner’s inquest. And if these are required, it can take months, even years in the most complex of cases, for them to come to a conclusion.

How does this affect the Winding Up of an Estate?

Well, the final death certificate will not be issued until the conclusion of any investigations which, as mentioned, could be years in the most complex of situations. However, while the final death certificate is awaited, an interim death certificate will be issued. The interim death certificate can be used to notify financial organisations of the death and to apply for probate in England, or confirmation in Scotland. However, it must be noted that some financial organisations will not be familiar with interim death certificates and may challenge the use of them. So, it is still possible to deal with the winding up of the Estate but may take longer than it typically would.

In terms of laying your loved one to rest, once any post-mortems have taken place, the body will be released to the family to allow for the funeral to take place.

On the face of it, it may seem that the involvement of a coroner or procurator fiscal does not materially affect the winding up of an Estate. However, at one of the most difficult times of your life, the smallest things could pose great challenges. We would always recommend you instruct a solicitor to help you navigate at least the legal paperwork and processes associated. Then, you can focus on grieving and preserving the memory of your loved one.

For sympathetic advice on winding up an estate please contact the Bereavement team at Jones Whyte on 0330 175 1234 or click below to submit a contact form online.

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