The death of a family member or loved one can be an extremely challenging and emotional experience. During this grieving period, family members have many tasks to complete, including notifying relatives and friends and coordinating funeral arrangements. After your loved one has passed away, dealing with their estate may feel overwhelming. An estate attorney or probate litigation lawyer can provide expert legal advice to make the process easier during your time of grief.
What to Do When Someone Dies
Dealing with administrative tasks after the death of a loved one may be one the last things on your mind. However, there are several steps you need to take to ensure your loved one’s assets are secured, and the probate process is handled appropriately.
- Determine who will be the representative of the will
If a legal will is in place, the executor will be named the representative of the will. If there is no legal will in place and the estate is small and can be transferred through simplified procedures, a close relative may be named the representative of the will. If there is no will and the estate is more extensive and needs to go through probate, the court will assign an administrator as the estate representative.
- Obtain certified copies of the death certificate
A certified copy of the death certificate will likely be needed to complete paperwork and procedures throughout the legal process.
- Gather any estate documents and financial paperwork
Locate the decedent’s will, bank statements, deeds, insurance policies, business contracts, and credit card account statements. If you cannot find a copy of any of these documents, you may need to contact the decedent’s attorney.
- Do not close any bank accounts or other financial plans
Until probate is opened, you may not have the authority to make any changes or closures of your loved one’s accounts. It is essential to protect any assets for the estate’s beneficiaries.
- Secure all property in the estate
Any residences, vehicles, and personal property of the decedent must be secured. Identify all of the property in the estate, both real property, such as land or bonds, and personal property, like jewelry and other belongings. You will also need to assess any debt or tax obligations applicable to the estate. Once all property and debts have been evaluated, an itemized list should be created that includes a brief description of the item, the estimated value of each item, and the decedent’s status of ownership. It may be helpful to take photos for your records. It is crucial to secure all items in the estate immediately as relatives may attempt to claim property before the estate opens. Family relationships can be complex, and emotions are heightened during the grieving process. Securing the estate avoids resentment from beneficiaries who are entitled to inherit property from the decedent when the estate is formally distributed.
Need for legal help
In some cases, it may be necessary to seek legal assistance immediately after the death of your loved one.
You should contact a probate litigation lawyer without delay in any of the following scenarios:
- There is an issue of guardianship, and a minor no longer has a surviving parent;
- A suspicion of a dispute between caregivers and family members over the estate;
- You anticipate litigation will be involved in the distribution of assets;
- The decedent owned a business;
- You fear the estate or an individual close to the decedent is under threat; and/or
- A surviving spouse needs to apply for the temporary release of estate funds for living expenses or medical care.
Locating the decedent’s will and other legal and financial documents
Upon a loved one’s death, it is necessary to locate a copy of the decedent’s will and other financial documents and contracts such as life insurance policies and bank statements. The original will and any codicils are essential to ensuring the decedent’s instructions are respected. These documents may be stored in a safe deposit box, filing cabinet, or electronically on the decedent’s computer. Alternatively, you may need to contact the decedent’s estate attorney to access the information.
Who to Contact After a Someone Dies
There are several administrative tasks that need to be completed when a loved one passes away.
The following is a list of people you may need to contact after the death of a family member:
- Decedent’s employer – You will need to notify their employer and also request any details of insurance policies held by your loved one with the organization.
- Social Security Administration – You will need to notify the Social Security Administration to claim any benefits that may be available.
- Property Landlord – If your loved one was renting a property and had a tenant’s agreement, you must notify the landlord or rental agency.
- Veteran Administration – Support may be available for funeral costs and ongoing benefits if your loved one was a veteran.
- Auto Insurance Carrier – Notify the insurance carrier of the death and that the decedent’s vehicle is not in use. However, the policy should not be canceled until the estate is finalized.
- Utility and Service Providers – Notify and cancel any utilities or services that are not required, including internet or television subscriptions.
- Probate Attorney – Engage a probate litigation attorney to open your loved one’s estate with the court. Organizations are unlikely to discuss the details of the decedent’s accounts and information without the court appointing an executor or administrator.
When a loved one dies, do you need a lawyer?
When emotions are raw, and families are grieving, an experienced attorney can help guide you through the estate and probate process and ensure that your loved one’s wishes are fulfilled. An attorney will review the decedent’s will and advise you on whether it can be resolved through a simplified procedure or if the estate needs to go to probate court. It is best to let an experienced attorney handle the process from the beginning to avoid emotional family disputes and costly litigation.
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Different Ways an Estate Can Be Transferred After Someone Dies
The transfer of assets in an estate after the death of a family member can be complicated. There are formalities and legal procedures involved, and probate and estate laws can vary from state to state. The process of asset transfer depends on the size and complexity of the estate.
#1 Way — Transfer of assets by simplified procedure
In some cases, the estate may not need to proceed to the probate court, and a simplified procedure can be used to transfer assets. Factors such as the overall financial value of the estate and the type of property being transferred will impact whether a simplified procedure can be used.
Assets that have a named beneficiary may qualify for a simplified procedure transfer, for example:
- Retirement accounts or pensions;
- Life insurance policies; and/or
- Property in a living trust.
In addition, estates with a value of $166,250 or less may be transferred through a simplified procedure. It is best to contact an experienced attorney to review the will and assess whether the estate needs to proceed to the probate court.
#2 Way — Transfer of assets by the probate court
If the decedent’s estate is worth more than $166,250, the case must proceed to probate court.
A Petition for Probate must be filed, and the court will determine:
- The existence and validity of the will;
- The identities of any heirs and beneficiaries;
- The value of the decedent’s property;
- Any financial responsibilities of the decedent;
- The appropriate transfer of property to the heirs and beneficiaries; and
- Pronouncement on any legal contest or dispute.
Why Do You Need a Lawyer When Someone Dies
Many people often assume that they do not need legal assistance because of the size or monetary value of their loved one’s estate. However, estate law can be challenging to navigate, and multiple stakeholders are often involved.
An experienced lawyer can ensure that all of the legal procedures are adhered to and can assist by offering the following services:
- Obtaining necessary paperwork, such as the death certificate;
- Reviewing the will and determining if the estate needs to proceed to probate court;
- Managing any urgent matters such as guardianship of minors;
- Handling communication with insurance companies;
- Assessing any debts and tax obligations;
- Reviewing any creditor’s claims; and
- Managing legal contests, litigation, and disputes.
When we suffer the loss of a loved one, our life is often turned upside down. It is a time of intense emotions, and it can be challenging to manage daily life activities, let alone think about the legal process of handling the estate. Unfortunately, litigation and family disputes are common, making the legal process even more complicated. An experienced estate or probate lawyer can ensure that all legal procedures are followed and handled appropriately, giving you peace of mind and the time to grieve properly.