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Consumer Rights: 'My best friend died and I did not know I was her executor'

Help through the complexities of probate and paying to play music in a hairdressers

Q: My best friend has just died and although she never asked me I have discovered she has named me, on her will, as her executor. As far as I'm aware she didn't have a lot of money or property, and she has a husband so I expect everything goes to him, but I don't know where to start. Do I have to take the job? And if I do, should I get the help of a solicitor?

SB, via email

A: First things first: Read the will. If it really is very straightforward and there's little money involved you shouldn't need the help of a solicitor and may feel happy about doing the work. However, you will need to go through your friend's paperwork to find out what assets she has left: her bank and building society accounts, any investments or premium bonds, pensions or insurance policies which pay out on her death.

If your friend's home isn't rented, does she own it in her name only or jointly with her husband? Does she have any debts or does she owe any tax? Does anyone owe your friend money? If so they now owe it to her estate and you should collect that too. It will be your job to do as much research as possible to gather all the facts.

You will need to make sure any debts are paid and that people listed in the will as her beneficiaries get the gifts she has left them.

If, as you suspect, there isn't much money involved and there are small amounts in her accounts, you may be able to gather it all together and pass it on to her beneficiaries without applying for a Grant of Probate. Most banks will agree to hand over amounts up to £5,000 but they may ask you to sign an indemnity to protect themselves from the risk that it later turns out they've handed the money over to the wrong person.

However, if she has more than £5,000 in any one account, an insurance policy on which the estate can claim, or pensions you will probably need a Grant of Probate. This is the certificate that gives you as executor the authority to go ahead and sort out the estate in accordance with your friend's will. You can find all the necessary forms and guidance notes for filling them in online at direct.gov.uk/en/Governmentcitizensandrights/Death/Preparation/DG_10029716 .

Print them off, fill them in and sent them to the nearest Probate Registry (the address of which will also be online at Direct Gov). You will then need to go along for an interview after which the Grant of Probate will be sent to you.

There is also the question of inheritance tax. When you apply for probate there will be another form to fill in called a Return of Estate Information, though if the total in the estate is less than £325,000 there won't be any inheritance tax to pay.

If all of this feels too much for you to take on, you can ask a solicitor to do the work for you, the costs of which can be claimed back from the estate as can your reasonable expenses. Alternatively you can appoint someone else to act as your attorney and apply for probate for you, or you can refuse to act as executor and renounce. Fill in a form of renunciation. You can buy this from a specialist legal stationers or order it from a website such as oyezformslink.co.uk.

If you have any questions about applying for probate, call the Probate and Inheritance Tax helpline on 0845 302 0900.

Q: I've had a small mobile hairdressing business for years and have just taken the plunge and opened a salon. I like to have music playing to create a relaxing atmosphere but a customer has just told me that she thinks I need a licence to play music. Is she right and if so can you give me any idea what I need to do and where to apply to?

FK, via email

Playing music in your workplace, where employees and customers can listen to it, is considered to be a public performance. You need to get permission from the copyright holder to play their music in public. A music licence is a simple way for you to get the permission you need from all the copyright owners.

You need a PRS for Music licence, which can cost as little as £74.58 plus VAT for the year. Ring 0800 694 7322 for help.