Collection of property once belonging to the person who has died
Note. This page is not intended to be a comprehensive guide about Wills and Estates. It is simply focused on the return of personal property when someone has died somewhere away from home.
Unless a Will states otherwise, the next of kin or a next of kin that has obtained a ‘letter of administration’ and therefore has a greater right, has an equitable right to take possession of property whether soiled or unsoiled which was worn at time of death. This extends beyond items that may be considered as only having a monetary value i.e. jewellery.
If clothing or other property is destroyed, say by a member of NHS staff, a Coroner, or even an undertaker, if confronted about this, they would need to prove the item/s were a risk under what is legally considered a notifiable and communicable disease.
A list of notifiable diseases can be seen in Schedule 1 of The Health Protection (Notification) Regulations 2010.
The Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 discusses when a ‘medical practitioner’ becomes aware or suspects that a patient whom he is attending within the district of a local authority is suffering from a notifiable disease or from food poisoning. It is my understanding that what this legislation is stating is that a “registered medical practitioner” must believe that there is a risk and he must notify the proper officer of the local authority where the person has died, and he shall, unless he believes and has reasonable grounds for believing that there is a risk, complete a certificate.
So I must assume that if someone other than a person with the greatest right to take possession of the property worn at time of death should destroy it, and relies on some legislation to justify the action, this person should be able to prove it. I would expect this person to provide a copy of a certificate which proves that they have notified the proper officer for the local authority.
In the case of murdered victims and in some other circumstance, it may be that personal possessions cannot be returned straight away. Please consult with a family police liaison officer or the Coroner investigating the death.