Losing a loved one is never easy, regardless of when that time comes. If you’ve been nominated, or appointed, as the executor or trustee of your loved one’s estate, then you are not only faced with the grief that comes from your loss, but also the burden of a hefty to-do list. Depending on the legal documents in place, that may include funeral arrangements, coordination of family members for the visitation, and ultimately the probate (legal term that essentially means taking care of the will through the legal system) and/or trust administration of the estate. Fortunately, you don’t have to go through this process alone as there are experienced trust administration and probate lawyers who can help.
While you should always take care of yourself first, you will also need to start working diligently on the legal matters that you are now in charge of. Here are 5 key steps to help you get everything in order and avoid legal battles.
- Secure Personal Property: Secure the decedent’s vehicles, home, business interests, personal belongings, etc.. Don’t start passing out personal effects or belongings until you have located and read the will, preferably with a lawyer.
- Locate: Locate important documents and hold on to them. Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, Life Insurance contracts, annuity contracts, investment accounts, and all incoming bills.
- Notify: Notify the financial advisor(s), banks, Social Security, past employers (for benefits accounts if any), insurance companies. You may not be able to cancel the insurance on no longer needed accounts until you’ve formally taken over the estate as an executor or trustee, but it is important to start collecting these companies information and forms to do so.
- Death Certificate: As soon as practicable, obtain copies of the death certificate. Most companies will accept a copy, government bodies will usually want a certified copy, so get a few just in case.
- Meet with a probate lawyer: They will help you navigate the waters of probate. Your lawyer will want to see (1) the decedent’s Will and/or Trust; (2) a list of their bills and debts; (3) the names and contact information for their financial advisors, insurance agents, tax professional, and other advisors; (4) all the decedent’s surviving family members, their contact information, and likely more if needed by the court.
The loss of a loved one is a stressful time, engaging with an experienced probate lawyer will help bring peace of mind and direction to the many unknown tasks you will be faced as the executor and/or trustee of your loved one’s estate.