If a loved one or member of your family has passed away, then it may come to you to be responsible for helping to oversee what happens to their assets. This is known as the probate process, and it ensures that all of the assets in their name are handled as specified by their will.
Here, we’re going to look at the probate process itself, what you should do to ensure that you’re following the process as best as possible, and tips to help you manage the loss financially.
Securing the Will
First of all, in order to start the probate process, the will of the deceased needs to be found. The will shall dictate who will be the executor of the will in the first place, meaning the person who is responsible for carrying out all of the last wishes of the loved one. This is known as the Executor. There are no rules as to who has the will. It may be in the home of the loved one, it may be with their solicitor, it may be with their bank, and you may have to use a service like a will search if theirs is missing. If there is no will, then probate will follow what is called the Rules of Intestacy, instead.
File as an Executor
If you have been named as the executor or the personal representative in the will, then your loved one wanted you to oversee how their assets are handled. You do not have to necessarily agree to do it, but there can be legal complications that arise if you do not. In order to be able to legally act as the executor, you have to petition the local court. An attorney can help you do this if you’re uncertain of the process. After you have filed as an executor, if accepted, you will then receive letters certifying your role, allowing you to act with authority over the assets of the deceased person.
Make Sure You Have a Copy of the Death Certificate
If you are named as the executor of the estate, then you have a duty to not only oversee that your loved one’s assets are distributed to the family, but also that their funeral arrangements are taken care of and that some of the essential paperwork is filed. As such, the funeral director is going to ask you about how many copies of the death certificate you have. You should make sure you keep one but also obtain copies to send to any state organizations that the deceased may have been receiving benefits from, as well as any banks, life insurers, and investment firms. It’s usually a good idea to order some extra.
Make Sure Family Members Do Not Start Taking Property
When you are the executor of the estate, then it is your duty and responsibility to make sure that the deceased person’s assets are handled in a way that follows their will, as well as the law. This includes all of their assets in their home that belonged to them, including their dinnerware, furniture, art, and even the home itself. All of this has to be valued so that, if it has to be liquidated, then you can figure out how much value is in it. To that end, you need to make sure that family members are not given free access to these assets by securing the home.
Finding the Value of Their Assets
Once you have all of the assets secured, then it is time to start the process of finding the estate value. As mentioned, the estate can include property such as real estate, physical possessions belonging to the deceased (outside of what has been gifted before death), automobiles, and more. However, it also includes things like bank accounts, savings funds, trusts, and any business trusts. In order to truly start the probate process, then these assets must be inventoried and must go through the valuation process. There are service providers that can help with this, ensuring that you get as accurate an accounting of the value of your loved one’s belongings as possible. The valuation may not always match up with the real money gained from any liquidation, but it is still necessary.
Paying Any Bills Necessary
There is no automatic forgiveness of any money that we owe simply because we pass on, unfortunately. Instead, we have to settle many of the accounts were standing at the time of our death. There are likely to be a range of liabilities that you will have to oversee the final payments for. These can include any utilities for their home, payments on their home loan, and any storage fees necessary to ensure that their belongings continue to be kept safe until you are able to release the assets and close those accounts. Final bills, such as medical bills and funeral costs, are paid after this. Then you have to learn which creditors need to be repaid.
Paying the Taxes Owed
Aside from the money that your loved one owes creditors and those who are sending bills, the taxman also gets their cut at the end. After all, any income that they make is taxed, even at the point of death. As such, it will be the responsibility of the executor to file those final income tax returns for the year that they passed away. Before assets can be given or liquidated, you first have to wait to see if there are any estate taxes that have to be paid as well. All of the payments for these, like the bills left behind, will come from the estate funds.
If the will dictates as such, the assets may instead have to be liquidated. This means that the inventory of assets kept has to be sold and the money then has to be distributed ot those people named in the will. As the executor of the will, this means that you have to go about the process of selling, yourself. You can get legal help in making sure that you’re selling a house during the probate process in the right way, as well as for the other assets. If there are outstanding bills that have to be paid, as well as any creditors that are still owed their money, and the deceased doesn’t have enough cash to pay them, some assets may have to be liquidated to handle those costs, as well.
Executing the Distribution of the Estate
After all of the essentials have been paid, and the assets have been liquidated (if it is necessary), then you can go through the process of making sure that everyone named in the will is given what they are entitled to. You have to get the court’s permission to do this, as you did when first filing as an executor, and to do that, you have to prove that all bills, taxes, and creditors have been paid and accounted for. There may be forms you can seek from the courts in order to make this accounting easier to put on paper. If there are any minors named in the will, then you may have to go through the process of setting up a trust for them.
Get Legal Help
If you have been reading the tips above and you’re concerned about whether or not you will be able to carry out all of the advice mentioned, then it may be a good idea to get some legal help to make sure that you are fulfilling your role as best as possible. In many cases, people will name their attorneys as their executor, meaning that a law firm may be well-positioned to help you go through and understand any processes that you are currently having trouble with. This way you can make sure that you don’t inadvertently break any laws during the estate process and handle everything with as much care and responsibility as possible. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help to make sure you’re handling your duties as responsibly as possible.
You Do Not Have to Rush Through the Probate Process
If you are currently grieving, then you don’t have to follow any of the steps above immediately following the death of a loved one. It can help to follow some, such as securing their assets, simply so you have the estate funds at the ready to pay for their funeral expenses, and to notify things like Social Security of their death as soon as possible. Otherwise, however, if you need to grieve with your family for some time, then you shouldn’t feel like there is any need to rush through the probate process. Take your time, make sure you’re in the right place to do things with the care and attention needed.
With the tips above, you can hopefully make the process of going through probate and a loved one’s assets and possessions a little easier. The sooner you get started, the sooner you can get it over with and get on with the grieving process, instead.