1. Gather all relevant documents
When a loved one passes away, it is important to collect any and all documents that are relevant to their estate. This can include identification documents such as birth certificates, driver’s license, Social Security card, title deeds, wills and trusts, life insurance policies, bank statements, financial investments and retirement accounts.
2. Execute the will
Before distributing any of the deceased's assets, it is important to ensure that their last wishes have been followed and their will has been formally executed by a court of law. This includes appointing an executor to administer the estate, locating any beneficiaries mentioned in the will, and identifying any property left behind.
3. Administer the estate
The executor is responsible for overseeing all legal processes involved in administering the deceased's estate, including collecting and inventorying assets, paying taxes owed on behalf of the deceased, and distributing property to heir or designated beneficiaries according to state laws and as per instructions laid out in the will.
4. Pay outstanding debts or taxes of the deceased
Once the executor has collected all relevant documents and identified any financial obligations, debts and taxes that are owed on behalf of the deceased, it is important to make sure all outstanding payments are settled in a timely manner. This can include mortgages, credit card debt, utility bills, or any other remaining balances.
5. Obtain court approval for certain estate actions
Depending on state laws, certain legal steps may require court approval before they can be acted upon. The executor should consult with an attorney to determine which actions need to be approved by a judge and take the appropriate steps required by law.
6. Settle accounts and close any financial dealings with the deceased
The executor should make sure that all accounts in the name of the deceased are properly closed and any remaining balances are paid off. This includes bank accounts, credit cards, mortgages, investments and other financial dealings.
7. Transfer property ownership rights
Once all outstanding debts have been settled, it is important to ensure that any real estate or personal items owned by the deceased are transferred over to their designated beneficiaries as per instructions set out in their will.
8. Plan and arrange funeral services
If desired, arrangements for a funeral can be made in accordance with the wishes of the deceased and his/her family members. It is also important to check if there were any pre-paid funeral plans left behind by the deceased and to inform the funeral home of any arrangements that need to be made.
9. Notify government agencies and other service providers
Once all relevant documents have been gathered, it is important to notify the Social Security Administration, Veterans Affairs, Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and any other government agencies of the passing of the deceased. It may also be necessary to alert utility companies and other service providers so they can close out accounts in the name of the deceased.
10. Update beneficiary designations on financial accounts, insurance policies, and other documents
Finally, if applicable, it is important to update beneficiary designations on all life insurance policies, retirement accounts and other financial documents with respect to their wishes as laid out in the will.