Wills, probate, benefits, joint property, debts, estate taxes are all issues that need to be addressed after a death. While it's important to take care of all of these activities, it's more important to move at a pace that's comfortable for you during your grieving process. Sorting and settling all the details may be confusing and overwhelming. Consultation with a competent professional is strongly recommended.
Locate Important Documents
Locate as many of the following documents as possible:
Bank Accounts & Safe Deposit Boxes
To avoid problems, contact your bank directly to determine the amount of money accessible and procedures for releasing funds. Also establish a new account for funds received after the death. At least one joint account should be left open for at least six months to deposit any checks in the deceased's name. If after six months you want to take the deceased's name off the account, the bank will want to have a certified copy of the death certificate. Your bank can advise you regarding IRA's or CD's (Certificates of Deposit)
If a safety deposit box is in the sole ownership of the deceased, banks will require a certified copy of the death certificate and letters of administration to gain access to the contents.
The will is a legal document that tells the executor who inherits what items from the estate. They are a simple and inexpensive way to keep an estate out of probate court, but they don't cover everything. A will can't be used to leave property held in joint tenancy, property that was transferred to a living trust, proceeds of a life insurance policy, money in a pension plan or retirement plan, or money in a payable-on-death bank account.
Your executor is the person named in the Will, who is designated as the representative of the estate and responsible for carrying out the directions of the will. The executor is typically responsible for offering the will for probate and disbursing property to the beneficiaries as designated in the will. They are also responsible for ensuring all debts and taxes are paid.
In the event there is no will or the designated executor chooses not fulfill the duties, an executor may be appointed by the court.
In addition, your executor has full responsibility with regards to your funeral arrangements.
Probate is the process that transfers legal title of property from the estate to the beneficiaries, either though proof of a valid will, or if there's no will, determining one's legal heirs through in court. Probate is not cheap or quick as the process may require attorneys and can tie up property for a year or more. It can also strain family relations. The best way to avoid probate problems is to make sure there is a valid will that's up to date.
Creditors should be notified promptly. If there will be a delay in payments, many creditors are sympathetic and you may be able to file for extensions.