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Estate Planning and Loss: What to do When a Loved One Dies
The grief of losing a loved one can be blinding and it is easy to forget that important estate planning decisions need to be made in such moments. Without swift action, costs can pile up and so while administering a deceased loved one’s estate may be the last thing you want to do in the face of heartbreak, the task should not be delayed. An experienced estate planning attorney can lighten the load by guiding you through each of the essential steps described below.
Five Essential Estate Planning Tasks After a Loss
- Arrange Care for Minor Children and Dependents
If the tragedy of your loss is compounded by the deceased having left minor children or dependents needing care, this is the first and most important task to address. In the short term, you may need to turn to third-party services. As the estate is administered, a long-term solution will be worked out.
- Locate Estate Planning Documents and Identify Executor
Determining which estate planning documents a loved one may have left is crucial but the task is not always easy. Begin by checking with their attorney (if possible) and if not found there, consider looking in safety deposit boxes, filing cabinets, safes, and even the refrigerator. Once on hand, consult the will or trust to determine who has been named executor or trustee and advise that person that an estate planning/probate attorney should be consulted.
- Obtain Death Certificate and Compile Personal Information
Most often, a death certificate will be completed and signed by the last attending physician and funeral services provider. If your loved one died out of hospital, you will need to reach out to a physician and funeral home consultant.
A death certificate is necessary for transactions concerning bank accounts, property deeds, investment accounts, vehicle registration, life insurance claims, the probating of a will and so on meaning you will want to order multiple copies. In addition, it is useful to compile any personal information of the deceased that future paperwork may require. This includes everything from name, date and time of death, and social security number to occupation, marital status, preferred form of disposition, etc. An experienced attorney can provide you a complete list of all needed details.
- Pay Bills, Collect Mail, and Secure the Estate
In some states, a surviving spouse may be liable for a person’s debts and so it is important to seek legal counsel to determine if this is your case. Otherwise, the estate’s executor or trustee is responsible for identifying bills that need to be paid and fulfilling creditor notification requirements. Here, too, legal counsel is helpful especially in cases where an estate is administered through probate court as creditor claims must be carefully handled.
In addition to bills, mail must be collected and a person’s residence must be secured such that no tangible personal property is removed. This applies even to individuals named as beneficiaries to the estate. Until permission has been obtained from the court, none of the deceased’s assets may be moved including seemingly inconsequential items such as furniture and heirlooms.
An experienced estate planning/probate lawyer can assist you with figuring out what bills need to paid immediately, which may not need to be paid until later, etc… as well as advise you of how to further secure the deceased’s estate, especially where secured creditors are involved.
- Notify Appropriate Parties
Beyond family and loved ones, who should be the first on your list, appropriate parties refer to the deceased’s employer, Social Security and Veteran’s Affairs Administration if your loved one was receiving benefits, credit card companies, and all major credit reporting agencies.
Naturally, the above describes only the start of an executor’s duties. Administering a deceased loved one’s estate is a demanding task and it is important that you do not go it alone. Countless stumbling blocks exist and failing to avoid them not only makes an already troubled time much harder, it also exposes the executor to the legal risk of being found in breach of fiduciary duty.
Should you be in the unenviable position of needing to administer a loved one’s estate, do not hesitate to reach out to The Law Firm of Blanche D. Smith. It would be our pleasure to walk you through the administration process and we see it as our responsibility to ensure you understand every action taken along the way. Call us at (936) 301-0111 or reach us via the contact form on our website.