Life after Death

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No matter what your religious beliefs, there’s no denying that there’s life after your death for your loved ones.  When someone passes on, it’s always difficult – but life goes on and the living must focus on living.  In sitting down with people over the years to discuss their wishes, countless times I’ve heard: “I want things to go smoothly for my family after I’m gone.”  One of the best ways to prepare for settling an estate is to review the common steps taken following death.

First and foremost, loved ones should focus on their health and well-being.  Give yourselves plenty of time to grieve.  The legal side of settlement can wait awhile – unless the market is unstable.  Acting fast to preserve any equities the Decedent owned can be critical.

Who to Notify

If the death occurs without a doctor, you should notify the Decedent’s family doctor or a coroner to obtain a death certificate.  If the death occurs at home, you can contact the local police department or coroner.  If the Decedent was an organ donor, this must be considered.  Members of the immediate family often feel completely overwhelmed at the loss of a loved one.  To minimize stress, ask a family member or dear friend who is organized and enjoys being on the phone to help contact people to ensure no one important is forgotten.

The Decedent’s Desires

The easiest way to honor the decedent’s wishes is to locate an estate plan.  If you’re unable to find anything official, search for personal documents that outline preferences for things like an obituary, funeral or memorial service, burial, important people to contact, and wishes around anatomical gifts to help others.

Inventory of Assets

The executor and/or trustee of the estate will need to know what the Decedent owned and how it’s titled.  This information will impact how many death certificates should be ordered.  For starters, they will need one for the fiduciary, the law office, and each financial institution where the Decedent had assets.  Not knowing about assets can lead to a scavenger hunt that can take months, or even years.

The Role of the Administrator or Executor

In California, Probate is handled in the California Superior Courts.  The process transfers a Decedent’s assets to the beneficiaries listed in their will.   The process ensures the will is valid.  It also takes inventory of the estate property, and appraises it.  It makes sure any outstanding debts or taxes (including estate taxes) are paid.  If there isn’t a will, the property is distributed according to state law.
If probate is necessary after your loved one has passed away, the Court will need to appoint an  “Administrator” if there isn’t a will, or an “Executor” if there is. This person must oversee the estate and make sure the decedent’s wishes are honored and the beneficiaries of the estate know what’s going on throughout the entire process.  Probate can be very confusing.  Things will be much easier if you have support, guidance and direction from a competent attorney.

If the decedent had a “Trust based” plan, probate is not necessary and there will be no need to go through the court process and appoint an Administrator or Executor.  If the assets were not transferred to the Trust, it would require a small court proceding.

Valuing Assets

The financial institutions who hold the decedent’s accounts can assist with their current value.  You may need to get an Appraisal of any real or tangible personal property, depending on the value of the estate and the beneficiaries’ relationship.

Handling Debts

The law considers the payment of debts and the cost of settling the estate a priority.  If there are insufficient assets/funds to pay for same, no distributions may be made to beneficiaries.

Giving an Account

The beneficiaries have a right to know exactly what’s going on after their loved one passes on. The person responsible for overseeing the estate must keep accurate and detailed records in order to show them how any assets were used to settle the estate. This level of reporting out usually occurs during the settlement period.

Distributing Personal Property

Tangible personal property often has emotional value which far exceeds any financial value.  The fiduciary should be very mindful of this.  Nothing  should be distributed until a certified appraiser has assessed the value.  Even then, the fiduciary should proceed with caution, keep good records, and always get receipts.

Bequests

The specific bequest to the beneficiaries of the decedent’s Will or Trust may be done once the estate has settled and all debts and taxes have been paid. Any specific  bequests made by the decedent are handled first, and then all other “residuary” gifts are given.

The Cost of Settling an Estate

The cost of settling an estate is directly related to how current the estate plan was, the value of the estate, and the need for an estate tax return.  Unfortunately, costs may rise if the beneficiaries don’t get along, or the fiduciary and professionals assisting with the settlement fail to handle their responsibilities well.

Trusted Advisor

Settling an estate takes a lot of care, concern, and hand holding.  Accuracy, transparency, and patience is equally important.  Keeping people informed of progress goes a long way.  No matter what your circumstances are, Parrish Law will help you in any way we can with settling your estate(s).  As I mentioned earlier, there’s no denying that there’s life after your death for your loved ones and we’re a strong stand for “Helping You Create a Legacy of Love” right now to ease the process.

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