Woman working on her estate plan

First Steps to Take When Handling the Estate of a Loved One

A loved one’s death, even if expected, can be overwhelming, logistically as well as emotionally, especially if you are the designated personal representative, also known as the executor. Now is the right time to consult with a well-respected probate attorney who will guide you through the process of handling the estate of a loved one. If you live in Southeastern Massachusetts, the team of Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. is an excellent choice. In the meantime, here is some information about how to begin the process.

Step 1: Plan the funeral, cremation or burial

Obtain a death certificate from the funeral home, typically 2 weeks after the burial or cremation. The funeral home will order the specific number of death certificates you will need since most places you will be dealing with — banks, brokerage houses, insurance companies, and government agencies — will require an original, not a copy, of the document. Also important is to locate a will (if there is one) and any other estate documents such a trust.

Check whether there is a prepaid burial plan or if the deceased is entitled to death  

benefits from the Veterans Administration or a fraternal or religious group. If  

possible, get some helpers rounded up to arrange for the post-funeral gathering, 

any desired eulogies, military ceremonies and a written obituary if appropriate.

Step 2: Notify All Interested Parties of the Death

  • Close relatives, friends, and adjacent neighbors (If they wish to be contacted)
  • Employer/employees and workplace colleagues/associates
  • Social Security Administration
  • Life Insurance companies
  • Financial advisors
  • CPA (accountant)
  • The leader of the deceased’s place of worship
  • Organizations or groups in which the deceased was an active member

The family may also want to post a notice via social media.

Step 3: Take the Will to Probate the Estate

Probate is the legal process of executing a will. The probate court will make certain that all the deceased debts are paid and that the personal representative distributes the remaining assets to the beneficiaries according to the deceased’s wishes if they have a will. If there is no will, then the states’ laws of intestate would be followed. In some cases, however, if the deceased had a trust-based estate, probate may be unnecessary.

Step 4: Protect Dependents, Property, & Important Documents

The following actions are vital:

  • If necessary, make immediate care arrangements for dependent children, other dependent relatives who are incapacitated, and pets. 
  • Make sure the deceased’s home and vehicles are locked, and that other valuables, such as expensive pieces of jewelry are located, inventoried, and stored safely.
  • Locate legal documents, make a checklist of them, and store them safely.
  • If the deceased’s home is now empty, do your best to protect it from vandalism, e.g. by storing outdoor furniture, bicycles, etc. 
  • If no one else lives in the home, empty the refrigerator, water the plants, and have mail forwarded.

Step 5: Address Financial Matters

  • Inventory all assets
  • Open an estate bank account
  • Pay all outstanding creditors
  • Pay any outstanding taxes 
  • File a tax return for the estate
  • Open claims for life insurance benefits
  • Check with the deceased’s employer for any additional benefits
  • Cancel unnecessary services, e.g. cellphone, cable, internet
  • Distribute the deceased’s remaining assets to beneficiaries as specified in the will, or according to the laws on intestate if there is no will.

Step 7: Take Actions to Prevent Identity Theft

  • Notify credit agencies (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion)
  • Close credit cards
  • Cancel driver’s license and US passports
  • Closeout bank accounts
  • Delete social media accounts and emails
  • Update voter registration

If all of the above sounds complicated and time-consuming, that’s because it is. Being a personal representative is not a do-it-yourself project. Let us help you move through this process smoothly and with as little stress as possible.

Contact Our Dedicated Probate Attorneys Today

As probate attorneys at Surprenant & Beneski, P.C., we are more than knowledgeable and experienced. Our clients will attest to the fact that we are personally concerned with you and your family. Contact us now so we can provide you with compassion as well as outstanding legal service at this challenging time.