Losing a loved one can be unbearably difficult. Families are often thrust into making quick decisions regarding cremation, burial, services, and so on. In addition to the emotional side of things, families often become overwhelmed with the thought of handling their loved one’s financial obligations, personal belongings, distribution of assets, and settlement of the estate. It is not uncommon for people to call their attorney days or even hours after losing a loved one, out of sheer panic and anxiety over the practical things that must be done.
While the feelings of urgency and uncertainty are understandable and to be expected in such a daunting time, I routinely tell my clients to give themselves some time to reminisce with family, mourn, and celebrate the life of their loved one. Thereafter, even before you meet with a probate attorney, there are some things you can do if you are the executor or person who will likely be in charge of administering the estate:
- Locate the Last Will and Testament (if one exists);
- Secure the assets of the decedent. This entails securing the home, and possibly changing the locks on the residence if you feel there is a chance of entry and removal of property before the Estate is administered;
- Notify the Post Office to forward the mail; and
- Contact the decedent’s employer, if applicable.
Note, the funeral home generally contacts Social Security Administration and will assist you in ordering death certificates, so be sure to communicate with the funeral director and take any help they’re willing to offer. After you meet with a probate attorney, the following items should generally be accomplished:
- Gather bank and investment statements;
- Identify automatic payments being made and cancel services no longer needed (e.g. Netflix; iTunes; cable; internet; cell phone);
- Cancel driver’s license;
- Delete or memorialize social media accounts;
- Close email accounts; and
- To prevent identity theft, send copies of the death certificate to the three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
Probate administration of an estate will generally take a minimum of six months to complete, and our office will guide you through the process which includes, among other things, the following:
- Obtain a Tax Payer Identification number for the Estate;
- Notice to heirs and beneficiaries;
- Publish notice in the newspaper;
- Notify creditors;
- Contact applicable financial institutions;
- Compile assets and prepare a Report and Inventory which will be filed with the Court;
- Determine in-kind or cash distribution preferences;
- Distribute personal property and specific bequests;
- Complete applicable tax returns;
- Distribute assets; and
- Submit closing documents and obtain a Court Order closing the estate.
This is a very simplified list. However, the process is generally quite smooth with proper and timely communication between the executor and probate attorney. Administering a person’s estate is not a one-person job. Likewise, it will take some time to fully administer and close the estate, due in part to statutory requirements, the size and complexity of the assets involved, the response and cooperation from beneficiaries, and whether and to what extent the decedent left a comprehensive estate plan to follow. Regardless, try your best to give yourself time to grieve and celebrate your loved one’s life, and rely upon the probate attorney and other professionals to guide you through the estate administration.
The information contained above is for informational purposes only, and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel. You should not act or rely upon this information.