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Horizon Elder Law & Estate Planning Blog

Saturday, August 28, 2021

First Steps in Handling the Estate of a Loved One

It can be overwhelming when someone close to you dies, and you have to deal with the emotional loss while you handle the legal and financial matters of the deceased person’s estate. In times like this, it can help to have some guidance.

The good news is that you do not have to do all of the work by yourself. A California estate planning attorney can lift much if not all of the burden of estate administration off of your shoulders. Here are some of the first steps in handling the estate of a loved one:

Secure the Assets

Sadly, some people read the obituaries in the newspaper to get the information they need to rob the decedent’s house during the funeral ceremony. Since the family members are attending the services, the home is empty and unguarded.

One of the first things you will want to do is secure the assets, which could involve removing valuables from the building. Just make sure to document the items you remove. In some situations, it could be appropriate to arrange for a neighbor or a security service to remain at the house and highly visible until family members return.

Order Official Death Certificates

You will need official copies of the death certificate to file claims for life insurance proceeds and other death benefits. The Social Security Administration and retirement accounts will also need to get notified of the passing of your loved one.

If your close relative had life insurance with specific people named as the beneficiaries rather than the estate, those individuals will need to file claims for their portions of the proceeds. It can take about a month or longer for the insurer to process the claim, so the beneficiaries need to submit their claim forms right away.

Make an Inventory

It can be challenging to discover what assets a person had and learn the value of each item and account. Some things will need appraisals. Other items, like bank accounts, have an inherent dollar value.

You will need the inventory to prepare the decedent’s last income tax return, the estate tax return, and the court documents if your loved one’s estate has to go through the probate court. People with living trusts usually do not have to go through the probate process, but estates with a will or with no valid estate planning documents typically have to open a probate case.

Deal with the Debts

The estate will have to pay the final medical bills and other debts of the decedent. You will need to find out what debts your loved one had. There are strict rules about notifying creditors of a person’s death and consequences for failing to pay debts if the estate has the resources to do so.

Look for Other Benefits

People often “leave money on the table” when administering the estate of a loved one because they do not know about some benefits for which the decedent or estate could be eligible. For example, an employer might provide term life insurance policies for all employees, or a credit card might come with accidental death benefits.

A California estate planning attorney can help you discover the estate assets and help you avoid making mistakes that could delay the estate administration process. Get in touch with our office today for a free consultation.


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