Sadness, loneliness, and shock are just some of the intense emotions people feel when they lose a loved one. Many are at a loss when it comes to what their responsibilities in such an uncertain time. Here, we lay out a few steps to consider if you find yourself in this unenviable position.
On the very first day after a person passes away, you should look for directions from them about their funeral and burial arrangements and any special requests regarding organ donation and then begin the process of notifying family and friends. The next step is to contact the funeral home and start making funeral arrangements. You can delegate tasks to family and friends to ease your burden and to make things run more smoothly.
You will need to obtain a death certificate which is completed and filed by the funeral home or cremation organization. This will be needed when opening a safe deposit box and probating the will/initiating an estate proceeding. After the funeral, you should notify the Social Security Administration and any other applicable government agencies - such as the decedent’s local Department of Social Service if they were receiving benefits such as Medicaid so that payments can be stopped.
The very important work of gathering the decedent’s financial information, and legal and personal documents should begin now. You should locate the original will which is sometimes found in the decedent’s home or sometimes kept on file by the drafting attorney or at a safe deposit box. You should not throw anything away until you have a clear understanding of the decedent’s financial picture. It may be necessary to investigate the decedent’s computer which usually contains a person’s important information.
Once you have a death certificate, you can contact the decedent’s financial institutions to see if their accounts had any beneficiary designations. You should confirm the beneficiaries of their life insurance policies and check with the Social Security Administration and your loved one’s employer to see if surviving family members are entitled to any benefits.
After you have gathered important documents and begun to understand what kind of assets the decedent had, you must wait to access safe deposit boxes, pay debts or distribute assets until after an estate representative has been appointed by the court.
If you have not yet located the original will, you may need to petition the court to open the decedent’s safe deposit box to access it, but until an estate representative is appointed, you may not remove any of the other contents. Once you have the will, or you have confirmed that the decedent never executed a will, you should consult with an attorney and petition the court to probate the will or appoint an estate administrator (in cases where there was no will). Notice of the proceeding must be given to all of the decedent’s family members, even if they will not be inheriting anything from the estate.
The Executor or Estate Administrator will become the personal representative of the Estate. The personal representative must make an inventory of the decedent’s assets and liabilities, marshal the decedent’s assets, pay off their debts and distribute the remaining property to the decedent’s heirs. The personal representative should open an Estate bank account and keep good records of all transactions of the account. If there was no Will, the court will appoint an Estate Administrator who will pay debts and distribute the remaining assets according to the New York state law of intestate succession which dictates who inherits and in what proportions if someone dies without a Will.
If the Decedent owned real estate in another state, it might be necessary for the personal representative to initiate something called an ancillary proceeding in the state where the property is located so that the property can be distributed or sold. Further duties of the personal representative include contacting annuities, pensions, profit-sharing plans to determine what benefits the decedent’s heirs and surviving family members are entitled to and filling the decedent’s last income tax return as well as a possible estate tax return or fiduciary income tax return if there was a trust.
If you are a potential beneficiary but not the appointed Executor or Administrator, make sure you are staying in contact with the Estate representative to make sure you are going to receive your share of the Estate. If you feel that the Estate is being mishandled, it is possible to bring a challenge to the representative in court.
This article provides some basic information about the process following the death of a loved one. It is possible that an important detail that affects your circumstances are not addressed here. Call the Law Offices of Roman Aminov, P.C. at 347-766-2685 to speak to a knowledgeable estate attorney with any questions about handling the complicated logistics of the death of a loved one.