Legal and Financial

When a loved one dies, it’s hard enough to deal with the emotional trauma we experience, let alone think about the formalities that will follow. But, unfortunately, there are many things that need to be dealt with. Getting many of these things in order before death (for you or for a loved one) can save a lot of stress later on.

 

Executor and Probate 

An executor is named in the will as the person who is responsible for executing the will. This includes gathering and inventorying all property, identify and pay all debts, and distribute the remaining property as instructed by the will.. Anyone can be selected to be the executor, but because they have access to all of the estates property it is important to choose someone with business experience who is intelligent and trustworthy.

Probate is the process of transferring the property from the estate to the beneficiaries. The estate of the deceased will need to be filed with a Probate Court. The court determines the validity of the will and implements disposition of assets in accordance with the wills instructions. The court will then determine if all outstanding debts have been paid before permitting release of assets. The probate process can be very slow and is costly. Probate is not always necessary and it is important to consult an experience estate lawyer who can help guide you through the process.

  • Post-Funeral Checklist
    Steps to Complete After the Funeral
    List of legal and financial steps to complete when managing the estate of a loved one who has passed away.
  • View the Checklist

Tax and Insurance 

When someone passes away there will be a number of tax and insurance considerations.  Life insurance is the most significant policy that will need to be taken care of immediately after death. Begin by contacting the insurance company for instructions on how to file a claim. The terms of life insurance policies vary greatly and it is important to know who the beneficiaries are and understand the payment options. If a beneficiary isn’t named, the proceeds will be paid to the estate. A person may have additional insurance policies such as homeowner and automobile insurance that will need to be dealt with.

There are a variety of tax issues that you will also need to take care. You will need to file an income tax return the year that the person passed away. There may be capital gains tax due if any real estate or securities are sold from the estate. Finally, estate tax, which is tax that is owed on all property owned by the decedent at their time of death, may also be due. It is recommended to contact an accountant and lawyer who can help reduce the taxes that are owed when administering and distributing an estate.

After Death Steps

To make it somewhat easier after a loved one has died it is important to have a list of the three main steps that must be completed: Prepare, Notify, and Settle. Within each of these three steps there are numerous things that need to be taken care of. Learn more about the three steps that must be completed after a death below.

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Legal and Financial Topics

Following the death of a loved one, there are a number of legal and financial steps that need to be taken care of. Immediately following the death you will need to find a funeral home to arrange the funeral, obtain a copy of the death certificate, and contact a lawyer. Next, you will be required to notify friends and relatives, banks, insurance companies, employers, creditors, and other companies of the persons death. Finally, you will need to work with a lawyer to execute the will and settle the person’s estate.

After Death Steps

Articles on the responsibilities and steps to take after a loved one passes away.

Executor and Probate

Articles on how an executor carries out the directions of a will and the probate process.

Tax and Insurance

Articles on the tax and insurance considerations after the death of a loved one.

Prepare

To prepare for the Notify and Settle stages there are many documents you will need to locate or obtain.

  • Death Certificate – The most important thing in this step is to get certified copies of the death certificate. You will need it more often than you think during the Notify stage. Most funeral homes will give you one or two copies of the death certificate but you are going to need anywhere up to 20 copies, especially if the deceased had a lot of assets or debt. To get your certified copies, visit your city clerk’s office or contact the Office of Vital Statistics. Copies can cost anywhere from $5 to $20.
  • Letter of Testamentary or Letters of Administration – Whenever you need to contact any of the deceased’s creditors, or other financial institutions, you will need documents to prove that you are the executor of the estate. The proof they require is a Letter of Testamentary or Letters of Administration. Getting them requires some legal filings so the easiest route is to get a probate lawyer to get these for you, but if not, your first step will be to file a probate petition. If you are the executor of the will, just take a copy of the will to your local court in order to file a probate petition. The will is then validated for authenticity and, once confirmed, you will then receive the Letters of Testamentary. Be sure to get multiple copies. If the deceased did not leave a will and you are the spouse or next of kin, you can have the court provide Letters of Administration that will make you executor of the estate in order to conduct legal business on behalf of the deceased.
  • Consult a Lawyer – Even if you decide in the end not to hire an attorney, you should always at least consult with one in matters of the estate. As executor of the estate, if you don’t handle something properly you could be held liable. Often during times of grief it’s difficult to handle details such as these and hiring an attorney can be the best thing for you. Choose a board certified attorney who handles wills and trusts.
  • Locate Important Documents – Depending on how good the deceased was at record-keeping, this could be an easy or a very difficult task. Regardless of complexity, you will be expected to provide relevant documents when necessary. The type of documents you will need, in addition to the death certificate and Letter of Testamentary, include: life insurance policies (as well as auto, homeowners, and health insurance policies, etc.), most recent credit card statements, documents on any investment accounts, most current statements from all checking and savings accounts, most recent mortgage statement, tax returns for the past two years, current credit report, marriage licenses and birth certificates.

 

Notify

Now that you have in hand all the important paperwork you will need, you can begin to contact the deceased’s creditors, financial institutions, and more, to notify them of the death.

  • Social Security Administration – There are two good reasons to contact the SSA. First, you will receive a one-time benefit of $255 which can help toward funeral expenses. Second, the deceased will be placed on the Social Security Master Death Index which will safeguard the good name of the deceased so that no one can collect social security payments in their name.
  • The Employer – Contacting the employer is a courtesy so that the company is made aware and can begin filling the deceased’s position. You can also find out if the deceased had any bonuses or perks that you should still expect to receive.
  • Insurance Companies – Some insurance companies, like auto, you should contact simply so they discontinue billing. Of course, others like life insurance will need the paperwork from you so that they can disburse payments.
  • Credit Bureaus, Creditors and Credit Card Companies – By contacting the credit bureau, you can safeguard the deceased from future fraud as well as eliminate those pesky pre-approved credit cards that come in the mail (creditors use the credit bureau to determine credit worthiness of individuals and then randomly send out this mail which they won’t do if they see that the individual is deceased). Credit card companies need to be made aware so they can stop billing and many of them have insurance plans that will write off the debt in the case of death.
  • Post Office – You should complete a change of address for the deceased so that any incoming mail will be sent directly to you as the executor of the estate.
  • Utility Companies – Again, you will want to stop billing to save the estate money.

 

Settle

In the Settle stage you will cancel accounts, memberships and subscriptions (or transfer accounts that you wish to keep). You should also check on legalities regarding transferring mortgages and other assets that you will be retaining, as different states have different laws requiring whether the title documents need to be transferred out of the deceased’s name.

 

You will also need to apply for any benefits due to beneficiaries and pay any final bills. You may want to employ a reputable CPA who can file a final 1040 for the deceased, as well as a Form 1041 (estate income tax return). Finally, to safeguard the deceased from future fraud, complete the obituary with as little information as possible, and be careful what you post on social media. 

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