Are You Settling an Estate? – What to Do Right Away

Wolf-graveWhen a loved one dies, it is devastating. When you are also responsible for the deceased’s estate, it gets even harder. You are on the spot to make sure that your loved one’s affairs are handled appropriately without tearing the family apart.

If you have never dealt with death, you probably don’t know where to start. Here are suggestions on what you should do right away.

We didn’t have these suggestions available when my Mom died and it was difficult to get through everything that needed doing.

Before the Funeral

Determine if your loved one wanted to donate body parts. Talk to the attending doctor if they did. You may have to sign permission forms to make it happen, even if the deceased left written instructions.

Decide if an autopsy is needed. These cost money, so don’t have one done on a whim. They can cause family or religious conflict as well.

Contact family and friends to let them know your loved one has passed. Call your close relatives first and try to get someone on the list to make the rest of the calls for you. Unless your loved one has left instructions on who to call, look for their personal address book, email contact lists, Christmas card lists and etc to include all the appropriate people.

Make sure dependents and pets of the deceased will continue to have care.

Let family know you were tagged.  Make sure family members and other potential heirs understand that the deceased chose you to handle his or her affairs, but do so in a politically sensitive way. Let them know that the estate will remain untouched (including the cut crystal vase Aunt Lucy says your loved one wanted them to have!) until you consult with the appropriate parties and documents. Start listening to members for potential dispute areas relating to the estate.

Determine what (if any) funeral arrangements have been made. This information may be with estate planning documents. Don’t double pay for a funeral if your loved one already pre-paid!

Handle everyday routines at the home of the deceased.  Make sure mail is picked up. Cancel any personal care services (such as meals on wheels) in existence. Make sure the home is secured (preferably with someone there). Pay any bills, monitor any active emails or other online bill paying, banking or services that have a bill. Cancel newspapers, periodicals and other delivered products or services.

Making or Executing the Funeral Arrangements.
Funeral directors can help with the funeral service, get a bunch of death certificates (which you will need to deal with the assets), publish an obituary in the local paper (required if you will file a will so that creditors know the person has died) and contact the Social Security Administration for death benefits ( a whopping $255).

Remember however, that you are not required to use a funeral home and you can bury your loved one wherever codes permit – including on their own estate.

Contact the veterans administration if your loved one was a vet – collect any benefits applicable to the actual funeral service.

After the Funeral Service
Determine what (if any) estate planning has been done. Look for a will, trusts, beneficiary designations, insurance policies or letters to survivor’s. Alternately, if you know the name of the lawyer, accountant, or financial planner – call and see what they know about any planning done.

Talk to a lawyer.
Find and meet with a lawyer specializing in estate settlement or use the lawyer that set up the deceased’s estate plans.

They may help you in the coming months to distribute assets according to trusts, open probate to file the will and suggest other things you need to do to legally distribute your loved ones estate.

Find benefits owed.
There may be survivor’s benefits due from work, pensions, Social Security and other plans in which the deceased was involved. Also check for life insurance benefits.

Access or develop a list of assets.
You will need a list of assets. If there isn’t one look for real assets (cars, houses, art articles, furniture and etc) as well as registered assets (such as securities, bank accounts, online accounts and etc). List each asset, it’s location, it’s potential value, contact information, any beneficiaries designated for it and etc.

Make things easier on yourself.
Have the mail forwarded to you, report the death to credit bureaus to forestall identity theft of your loved one’s identity, cancel any non-needed services at the deceased’s home (such as cable, phone, cell phone, land line and etc) and don’t forget to notify any national, state, county or city programs (such as Medicaid and Social sScurity) from which the deceased received benefits – you will have to pay back any benefits received after death.

You’re Not Done Yet
In the coming months there will be many other tasks that you need to handle to get the estate settled, taxes paid, assets distributed and the estate closed against creditors.

Being responsible for settling an estate is not easy and is usually thankless. Sometimes it even costs you money. If you know you will be in this situation, take steps to either avoid it (by telling your now living loved one that you would prefer not to be their executor) or preparing for it (by working with your loved one to make things easier for you when the time comes).

Have you dealt with an estate? What have I forgotten to mention that needs to be done relatively soon after the death of your loved one?

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