What to Do When a Loved One Dies, Part 2

In my last blog post, I discussed what to do immediately upon a loved one dying.  In this article, I am going to discuss what to do later, after the funeral.

Locate Will or Trust Agreement.  The Will or Trust Agreement may be in a safe in the home or in a bank safe deposit box.   Or some other designated place.  I was on the way to a baseball game one afternoon when my uncle told me that his important papers were kept in a box on the floor of the closet in the mud room of his house.  I would have never found them! 

If you are unable to locate them, contact your loved one’s attorney, who should at least have a copy.  Some attorneys make it their practice to keep original Wills so that you will have to use them for probating the estate.

Make appointment with Attorney. Make an appointment with a trust and estate attorney to help you with transferring your loved one’s assets and going through probate, if necessary.  Even though your loved one’s attorney’s name is all over the Will or Trust Agreement, and even if that attorney has the original Will, it is not necessary for you to hire that attorney.

Determine assets.  Before you go in to see the attorney, you should try to determine what assets your loved one had at the time of his or her death.  Sometimes this is easy; he or she has a list of the assets and then has a file for each of the assets.  Wouldn’t that be great!  But, generally, you are not that lucky.  You may have to look through all the papers in the home to determine what he or she owned at the time of his or her death.  This is made more difficult by the fact that people keep things like insurance policies that are no longer in force.

Transfer of assets.  After the death of your loved one, your loved one’s assets need to be transferred to his or her beneficiaries or heirs at law.

Assets with named beneficiaries. Some assets will have named beneficiaries, which, upon getting a death certificate, will be transferred to those beneficiaries.  Examples are life insurance policies, annuities, 401(k)s and IRAs.

Assets held jointly with right of survivorship.  These assets will automatically, upon presenting a death certificate, pass to the joint tenant.  Examples are the residence, bank accounts, automobile.

Assets payable on death.  Bank accounts are sometimes “payable on death” which means that upon death and upon presenting a death certificate, the proceeds of the account pass to whoever is listed as payable on death.

Assets transferred on death.  Brokerage accounts can be “transferred on death” which is similar to payable on death.

Trust Assets.  Assets held by a trust are distributed according to the terms of the trust.

The rest of the assets.  Your loved one may have had assets that are none of the above, and simply held in the name of your loved one.  These assets can only be transferred by going through the probate process, which is the court administered process for transferring assets.  This is true even if your loved one had a Will.

For my next blog, I am going to discuss how to simplify this whole process for those you love.