June 2015

Start Here

When a loved one passes away, those left behind are often confused about where or how to begin the estate administration process. Anticipating this, many of our proactive estate planning clients have asked us: "What's the first thing that needs to happen when I die?" Our goal is to ensure that the process is smooth from start to finish for all our clients, but here we will focus on how to begin by outlining the 5 initial steps involved.

Step 1: Act diligently, but give yourself a break. In general, Executors need not meet with an attorney immediately, but should aim to do so within 2 to 4 weeks after a death. Prior to this, especially where a close relationship is involved, we encourage you to first deal with the emotions that surround the death. Executors will need to act most rapidly in those cases where there are closely-held businesses or other assets that could decrease in value quickly without oversight.

Step 2: Identify Advisors. We recommend that our clients maintain a list of advisors so that it is readily available at their death. The list should include an accountant, financial advisor, estate planning attorney, and any other advisor who is familiar with the deceased's wishes and assets. Contacting these advisors will notify them of the death and is a great first step towards information gathering.

Step 3: Locate Important Documents. Search for or request from advisors the following documents: the original will, copies of any trusts, a death certificate, asset information, account statements for all financial assets, signature cards from the bank on any joint accounts, copies of vehicle titles, contact information for spouses, children and other beneficiaries, and gift or income tax returns. The Executor will be named in the will and is the person who should complete the following steps.

Step 4: Schedule a Meeting with Trusts & Estates Attorney. Estate administration can be a complex process and income taxes, estate taxes, creditor claims and other important legal matters need to be considered. Although there is no requirement that an Executor retain an attorney to complete the process, most find that it relieves the uncertainty and stress of an unknown and sometimes difficult duty. Meeting with an experienced estate administration attorney will help you identify next steps and give you a better understanding of how to execute the deceased's estate plan. Bring all documents you have been able to locate with you to the first meeting.

Step 5: File to open the probate estate. In most cases, the original will and other court forms will need to be filed in the county where the decedent resided at the time of death. Additional filings may be required in other counties or states where the decedent owned property. An estate number will be assigned by the court, and most deadlines to complete future administration tasks will begin either as of (1) the date of death or (2) the date the estate is opened.

We recognize that estate administration can seem like a daunting task after the death of a loved one, but completing these steps will ensure an efficient estate administration process. Should you have questions or need assistance with the administration of a trust or estate, please feel free to contact our office.