Winding up Legal Affairs After Death

If you are soon to be in the position of taking care of a passing loved one’s affairs, continue reading for some guidance on where to start and what to do. Hopefully, this will start to make things a little clearer for you.

First thing to know is that the whole process doesn’t need to start at once right after the person has passed away. Losing someone is an incredibly painful, emotional time and people need to take that time to grieve. However, you should see a trusts and estates attorney no more than a month after the death. Ideally, this will also be the same attorney who made up the will and established the revocable living trust.

The first thing you will want to do when you start the process of handling a deceased loved one’s affairs is to obtain a copy of the decedent’s estate plan documents—things like the will and trust, if there is one. A lot of times, the attorney will have a copy, or will have one in a safety deposit box. Then, be sure to make an appointment with a trusts and estates attorney in the state where the deceased person lived. The will and any other estate plan documents will have been made in accordance to that state’s laws, and you’ll need to get an attorney licensed in that state to help guide you through the process.

Next, you’ll pay the attorney from the estate of the deceased person. Many trusts and estates attorneys charge by the hour for this type of work, so anywhere from $200 to $500 an hour is normal to expect. If an estate has to go through probate, a lot of states give the attorney payment on a sliding scale based on assets in the estate, and only then, by final approval from the court.

When you have your first meeting with the lawyer, she or he will explain what can be expected of you as the trustee of the trust or the executor of the estate. The first thing you’re likely to do is to get copies of the death certificate and a statement of assets and liabilities. These things should include a listing of all assets, bank accounts, life insurance policies, annuities, and investments, as well as any outstanding debts. You’ll also want to start getting monthly statements on any of the person’s accounts, so you will be able to estimate their value on the day of death.

If the elder forgot to put an asset in the trust, the attorney might have to go to court to have it put in. If any assets will be given to heirs, it’s fairly simple. But if the estate plan calls for creation of subtrusts (to hold for future generations or control distribution to any beneficiaries), they will then need to be drafted and funded, which means you have to change titles on assets. Trusts will then need to be given and invested appropriately by you as the trustee.

There are several more steps in the process of winding up a loved one’s affairs, but this article lays out the first few steps. This article hopefully provided you with enough of a jump-start to know how to get started and what to do when you begin the process. As always, with any questions or concerns, it’s best to contact an Elder Law attorney to help guide you through the process.