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When my parents died, I was named sole executor in their will, and everything went smoothly: all the banks, estate agents, etc were quite happy to deal with me on the assumption that I would be granted probate, which took a few months.

My friend Y is in a very different position. Her second cousin B, an old lady who lived alone, was found dead in her bed by her cleaner. B had no close relatives and few friends. The authorities identified Y as the only known relative, and Y has been trying to make the necessary arrangements. Y and B were never particularly close, but B had at one time asked Y to be her executor, so Y feels a responsibility to find out if B actually went ahead and made a will. But making the arrangements - finding contacts to invite to the funeral, tracing other relatives, searching for a will - is all very difficult without access to B's property and papers.

The cleaner was asked to hand over her key to the police, who are reluctant to release it without proof that Y is actually the next of kin. And that requires some serious genealogical research to establish.

The coroner has been happy for Y to sign a form releasing B's remains for cremation, and the funeral directors are perfectly happy (of course) for Y to pay for the funeral, without any guarantee that she will recover the costs from the estate.

Does Y (a) have any obligations in this situation, (b) have any rights, such as being allowed access to the property?

And if she isn't allowed access to the property, who is, and on what basis? Whose job is it to empty the fridge, or to repair storm damage to the roof? Is the property insured?

(Note: I understand that if B is found to be intestate, Y as a second cousin has no right to be granted administration or to benefit from the estate, which passes to the Crown unless first cousins can be found - which is not impossible.)

POSTSCRIPT: The police never released their key. But a neighbour had another key and allowed Y in. After a very extensive search (the place was a tip), a 30-year old will was found, in which Y was indeed named as executor.

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    Have the police given an explanation why they need more proof bearing in mind "The authorities identified Y as the only known relative" and the coroner has released the body to her? Also, this is in need of some major editing to cut to the chase, remove unessesary commentary, and made hypothetical as some may vote to close as a request for legal advice.
    – Rick
    Feb 8 at 9:47
  • A good question. Under U.S. law, this is frequently spelled out less clearly than one might like.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 9 at 0:04

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Does Y (a) have any obligations in this situation, (b) have any rights, such as being allowed access to the property?

(a) No. Y has no obligations. Indeed even if Y were a much closer relation or had been named as executor she should only have the obligations she chooses to accept. A relative can always refuse to act as next-of-kin and a named executor can always refuse to accept the role. If she chooses to pay for the funeral, she becomes a creditor of the estate and can seek recompense from the executor/administrator/the public trustee at the appropriate time.

(b) No. However, if Y were to approach the police and ask one of them to accompany her while she secured the property (emptied the fridge, switched off the utilities) and searched for a will they would probably accommodate her.

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  • So what DOES happen if there's storm damage to the property, or if it is burgled? Feb 9 at 12:49
  • @MichaelKay Shrug - that’s the beneficiaries’ problem.
    – Dale M
    Feb 9 at 13:40

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