The death of a loved one is a sensitive topic. However, I hope to share some information that could help others through this tough, emotional time. If you have been appointed an executor of a loved one’s estate, or a successor trustee, and that person dies, your grief – not to mention your to-do list, including tasks ranging from planning the funeral, coordinating relatives coming in from out of town and (eventually) meeting with a trust administration or probate attorney – can be quite overwhelming. First and foremost, please remember to take care of yourself during this emotional time.
Here is a non-comprehensive checklist that will help you through the process. I know it can be difficult, but some of these items have a deadline, so make sure you stay on top of it:
● Secure the deceased’s personal property (vehicle, home, business, etc.).
● Notify the post office.
● If the deceased have a valid will, share the will with the appropriate parties in a venue set aside for the occasion. You may even want to print it and make copies for some individuals.
● Get copies of the death certificate. You’ll need them for some upcoming tasks.
● Notify the Social Security office.
● Take care of any Medicare details that need attention.
● Contact the deceased’s employer to find out about benefits dispensation.
● Stop health insurance and notify relevant insurance companies. Terminate any policies no longer necessary. You may need to wait to actually cancel the policies until after you have “formally” taken over the estate, but you can often get the necessary paperwork started beforehand.
● Meet with a qualified probate and trust administration attorney. Depending on the circumstances, a probate may be necessary. Even if a probate is not needed, there is work that needs to be done to administer the estate properly. Here’s what you need to gather: (1) the deceased’s will and trust; (2) a list of the deceased’s bills and debts; (3) a list of the deceased’s financial advisors, insurance agent, tax professional, and other professional advisors; and (4) a list of the deceased’s surviving family members, including their contact information when available. Even if they are not named in the will or trust, the attorney will need to know about everyone in the family.
● Cancel your loved one’s driver’s license, passport, voter’s registration, and club memberships.
● Close out email and social media accounts, and shut down websites no longer needed. Depending on circumstances, to take these steps, you may need to wait until you have “formally” taken over the estate, but you can often learn the procedures and be ready to take action.
● Contact your tax professional.
Please reach out to an expert for help. You may be thinking about handling all the paperwork yourself but doing it yourself may be costly.
1. Seek professional counsel to avoid even the appearance of impropriety when handling an estate.
2. Bear in mind that errors of omission and accident can be costly – even if your intent was good. An executor who makes distributions from an estate too soon can get into serious trouble, for instance. An executor’s personal assets can be in jeopardy if his or her actions cause an estate to become insolvent.
3. Even if you’re well organized and knowledgeable about probate and estate law, it is surprisingly hard to anticipate what can go wrong. There are many ways to end up in hot water when you are handling the estate or trust of a loved one.