Whether it is expected, or whether it is not, the list of things to do when someone dies can be overwhelming. Perhaps even more overwhelming is understanding the rules and regulations that manage the disposition of the body and the management of the deceased’s financial affairs.
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WHAT DO YOU DO NEXT?
When a person dies, someone assumes the legal authority to manage their “estate.” The term “estate” is the legal word used to collectively describe all the assets (property) and liabilities of the deceased. The person in charge of managing the estate can be the Executor, a Successor Trustee, or a representative appointed by the probate court. For small estates, it could be a family member.
It’s not an easy task. It is a job where state laws determine what paperwork and procedures are required and who has the authority to initiate the paperwork. It is not a job we are taught to perform in school, but a job most of us will do when our parents or our spouse die.
These resources can help the estate representative and family members identify what must be done when someone dies:
WHEN IS THE PROBATE COURT INVOLVED IN OUR AFFAIRS?
The probate court has a responsibility to manage our affairs when we can’t.
This can happen in three different situations:
You die and own assets titled in your own name, or the estate is the beneficiary. Since you can no longer manages these assets, someone must be given the legal authority to manage these assets on your behalf. The probate court has the responsibility to appoint an estate representative and monitor the activities of the estate representative.
You become incapacitated. The law will consider you unable to manage your financial affairs or make your own health care choices. Someone must be given the legal authority to make choices for you. The probate court is obligated to appoint a conservator to manage your affairs, and then supervises the activities of the conservator.
A minor child is named as a beneficiary. Since minor children cannot legally “own” property, a guardian must be appointed to manage their affairs until the minor child is considered an adult. The probate court has the responsibility to appoint a guardian and to monitor the actions taken by the guardian.
"Working through a probate court without a plan was a nightmare."
When the probate court is involved, several things happen:
All of the information regarding you and your financial or health affairs are public records. In many courts, these records can be accessed online by anyone.
The cost of probate comes from your net worth. These costs can include court filing costs, legal fees, surety bond, and reporting fees.
The person appointed to be in charge of making choices for you or your minor children must follow choices set by state statutes, which may not be your choices.
The courts will appoint someone to act on your behalf, or on behalf of your minor children. This person may not be someone you would want making choices for you and your minor children.
You can find out more about the probate process and avoiding probate on these pages: