19 April 2021

Do you have debt tied up in a deceased's estate?

Debt recovery for local authorities in the current climate is increasingly challenging. There is a growing need to deliver a prompt and efficient collection service, with council tax, business rates and adult social care income being three huge areas of debt concern.

Whilst pursuing debt itself can be difficult, pursuing deceased estates can pose further obstacles, particularly due to the sensitive nature of the matters. These cases often cause a headache, with the local authority often left waiting for the deceased’s family to act, running the risk of assets being dissipated and claims becoming statute barred.

• When is the right time to approach the family after a death?

• What if the family won’t engage?

• Can I still recover the debt if probate has not been granted and there is no will?

• What do I do if the family have sold the property leaving the deceased estate with no assets?

• The property is standing empty since the debtor passed away, what can I do?

• How long do I have to recover a debt following the death of a service user?

What do I do if the family have sold the property leaving the deceased with no assets?


Shortly before the debtor went into a care home, the family sold their property. The debtor then went into care and subsequently died. This particular local authority believed the property had been sold to avoid the payment of care home fees. Upon the debtor’s death, the executors of the estate suggested that there were insufficient funds in the estate to repay the care home fees to the local authority.


Upon reviewing the facts of the case, we considered that the property had been sold to avoid paying the care home fees. As a result, we issued a petition against the deceased’s estate on the basis that the estate was insolvent with a view to appointing our in-house trustee. The trustee would look back at the property transaction with a view that the action had been taken to ‘defraud creditors’. The petition was issued, and the executors of the estate paid the debt in full together with the council’s costs prior to the hearing.

When is the right time to approach the family to recover the debt?

We are conscious that these are sensitive and complex cases. We consider the facts of each case individually and always tailor our advice to the specific scenario we are dealing with.

Sitting on a problem and waiting for a matter to resolve itself is never a good option for a local authority because the longer the matter remains unresolved, the more costs and time is involved in resolving the matter.

We can work with local authorities to send sensitive and appropriately worded letters to family members following a death in the hope that we can prompt the family to cooperate with the local authority, at an early stage whilst dealing with the estate.

Can I still recover the debt if probate has not been granted and there is no Will?

If the family aren’t engaging or progressing the administration of the estate, this does not mean the local authority has to sit and wait until they do, in order to collect an outstanding debt. We can assist you in approaching the family, and if contact from us still does not prompt them to deal with the estate, we can make an application to court to appoint a suitable family member to represent the estate for the purposes of the debt recovery proceedings, so you are no longer waiting for them to make the first move.

Paul Bowden, Wilkin Chapman LLP
Need help?

Contact Paul to discuss this further.

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