If you've 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 lawyer – can be quite overwhelming. First and foremost, take care of yourself during this emotional time.
Posted on September 1, 2016
To help you with the “business” end of things, here’s a quick checklist of crucial details that will make the trip to our office to handle the legal affairs easier. I know it can be difficult, but some of these things have a deadline, so make sure that you reach out sooner rather than later:
- Secure the deceased's personal property (vehicle, home, business, etc.).
- Notify the post office.
- If the deceased wrote an ethical will, share that 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’ve “formally” taken over the estate, but you can often get the necessary paperwork started before that time.
- Get ready to 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 trust properly. Here’s what you need to gather:
1. The deceased’s will and trust. If the original of the deceased’s will or trust can’t be located, contact us as soon as possible and bring any copies you do have.
2. A list of the deceased’s bills and debts. It’s often easier to bring the statements or the actual credit cards into the office rather than try to write out a list, but do whatever is easiest for you.
3. A list of the deceased’s financial advisors, insurance agent, tax professional, and other professional advisors.
4. A list of the deceased’s surviving family members, including their contact information when available. Even if they’re not named in the 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’ve “formally” taken over the estate, but you can often learn the procedures and be ready to take action.
- Contact your tax preparer.
- You may be thinking about handling all the paperwork yourself. It’s a tempting thought – why not keep things as simple as possible? – but a “DIY” approach to this process might cost you and your family dearly. Read on to understand why.
Consequences of Mishandling an Estate: Examples from Real Life
Example #1: Failing to disclose assets to the IRS. Lacy Doyle, a prominent art consultant in New York City, inherited a large estate when her father passed away in 2003. He allegedly left her $4 million, but she only disclosed fewer than $1 million in assets when she filed the court documents for the estate. Per the New York Daily News: “She opened an ‘undeclared Swiss bank account for the purpose of depositing the secret inheritance from her father’ in 2006 — using a fake foreign foundation name to conceal her identity…