Essential for negligence claims or an unnecessary formality?
In cases where someone has died as a result of a fatal injury, those left bereft may then seek to make a claim against those responsible for the death. This could be a claim for funeral expenses, bereavement, and loss of income to the household or for ongoing illness items such as hospital bills.
In order to bring certain claims a Letter of Administration will be required. The first question would be what is a Letter of Administration? Where an Executor is appointed in a will, they gain title to sue from the will. Where there is no will an Administrator can be appointed and their title to sue derives from the Grant of Letters of Administration i.e. someone has the right to bring a claim on behalf of the estate.
Case law highlights the dangers of not having obtained a Grant of Letters of Administration to bring a claim on behalf of the estate. For example in Millburn-Snell and others v Evans  the Claimants were the three daughters of the deceased who died intestate. They issued proceedings against the Defendant without having obtained a Grant of Letters of Administration. Five days before the trial was due to start, the Defendant issued an application to have the claim struck out on the grounds that the Claimants had no title to sue. The Claimants acknowledged that they had not obtained a Grant in their application to the High Court, requesting that the Judge made an Order under CPR 19.8(1) to enable them to continue the claim.
The High Court Judge struck out the claim, holding that he had no power to enable them to continue with their claim under CPR 19.8(1). He also ordered that the Claimants pay the Defendant’s costs of the application, and half of the balance of her costs of the claim, to be assessed.
The Court of Appeal upheld this decision. The Claimants had held out to be Personal Representatives but they in fact had not been granted such title. They had not sought or obtained a Grant of Letters of Administration. There was no reason why someone with a legitimate interest in bringing a claim on behalf of an intestate’s estate should not first obtain a Grant of Letters of Administration and so provide themselves with a title to sue.
The next question is do you always need a Letters of Administration to bring a claim in fatal accident cases? The answer is no. It will be required when the claim is being brought on behalf of the estate, for example for the loss occurring before the death such as costs for treatment of an illness, cost for loss of earnings due to time off work, loss occurring post death such as bereavement and funeral expenses. Letters will not however be required if the claim is for a loss of dependency, in which case the person claiming would have to show that they were reliant on the person financially prior to their death, such as a husband supporting his wife or vice versa. If the estate had a claim prior to the death, a Letter of Administration will be required for those seeking to bring the claim, if the party is seeking a claim for loss of dependency, then no such Grant will be required as this claim arising from the individual themselves and not from the estate.
Therefore there is no need to apply for a Letter of Administration in the case of someone dying intestate and a dependant making a claim on their own behalf for loss of dependency. The reality is that most cases would involve simultaneous claims for funeral expenses and bereavement, in which case the Letters of Administration would be required, however in pure dependency claims the Grant will still not be required.
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