Tag Archives: Settle an Estate

Are your loved ones protected when you die?

last-will  Larry and Susan had been living together for more than 20 years.  They never legally married; they said once had been enough.  A piece of paper wouldn’t change how they felt about each other.  Larry had been married before and had two sons.  Susan had also been married previously and she had a daughter.

When Larry’s father became incapacitated, they moved into his house to take care of him.  His father, to thank them for all they’d done, left the house to Larry in his will and named Larry beneficiary of his life insurance policy.  When his father died, Larry inherited the house and Susan and Larry continued to live in the house.  Larry promised to deposit the check from the insurance company into their joint bank account as soon as it arrived.

As Larry was crossing the street on his way home from work one day, he was struck by a car driven by a drunk driver and he died almost instantly.

Larry didn’t have a will and had not left any legal document naming Susan as his heir.  They lived in a state that did not recognize common law marriage so, when he died, his sons inherited everything.  They forced Susan to move out of the house and refused to give her any of the proceeds from the life insurance policy.  In essence, Susan was left with almost nothing!

Families today are very complex.  Some are the traditional married mother and father in their first marriage.  Many more are couples who were previously married to other spouses or who are legally married gay couples.  However, many people live together without benefit of a legal ceremony. This mixture of circumstances makes inheritance much more difficult and complex.

The only way to be sure your loved ones are protected is to prepare a will or a trust naming the person(s) you want to inherit your assets when you die.  Otherwise, state law will dictate who receives what.  Not you. It’s frightening that more than half of the people living in the United States today do not have a will and have not protected their loved ones. You can find a simple will form on the internet or can meet with an estate planning attorney to discuss the options that are best for you.

Don’t be like Larry.  Act now so those you love will be protected when you’re gone. For more information about wills and estate planning, go to www.diesmart.com.

Helen and Les Brown were born on the same day, remained married for 75 years and died just one day apart at age 94.  What a wonderful story of true love.  It would be great if there were more couples like them in the world.

75 year marriageBut, while thinking about this great couple, being a part of the Die Smart community I can’t help but think about their estate.  It’s bad enough if one person dies and a family member has to settle the estate, including dealing with lawyers, probate court and the mounds of paperwork that are necessary.  But the double work of settling the estates of two people can be massive.

Did they have wills, trusts, POD accounts?  Will one estate have to be settled before the other one?  Did they have their affairs in order?

To learn about what you should do to make sure you can avoid probate and make it easier for your loved ones to settle your estate after you’re gone, go to diesmart.com.

5 things you should know before you agree to be an executor

When my father died ten years ago and I found out he had named me as his executor, I thought “Okay.  It’s no big deal.”  Was I ever wrong!  I didn’t realize how much time, effort and frustration would be necessary to get everything settled. And I didn’t know that I would also have to be a detective.

 AARP recently published an article that listed five questions you should ask yourself before you agree to become an executor.   You might feel flattered if asked but think carefully about the questions and be sure it’s something you’re comfortable taking on.

1.  Do you have the time to take on this project?  When I started the process, I didn’t realize that it would be more than a year before my dad’s estate would be settled and that, during that year, getting all of the paperwork done and answering all of the government’s questions would often feel like a full time job.

2.  Do you have the skills to handle the process?  You have to be very organized and good with numbers.  Keeping massive spread sheets and tracking all of the paperwork nearly drove me crazy.

3.  Do you have the temperament to deal with all of the details?  I am a fairly calm, easy going person but I found myself getting very frustrated when confronted by people who made ridiculous demands.  One example I can remember is when the state of New Jersey (where my father died) asked me to sign a bunch of papers in black ink, get them notarized and send them in.  I did that and was shocked when I received a letter from a government office saying that I needed to resign them in blue ink, get them notarized again and send them back.  I did it and got one more letter.  It told me that I had not completed the forms correctly.  Believe it or not, it the letter said that the forms needed to be signed in black ink! 

4.  Do you know the rules of the state in which the estate is being settled?  Estate rules are very complex and I ended up hiring an attorney to help me get everything processed correctly.  Many people take this step after realizing what is involved.  For example, if you incorrectly declare the value of the estate, there can be legal repercussions, not just for the estate but for you as well.

5.  Can you afford to be the executor of the estate?  I lived in California and my dad died in New Jersey.  Some things just couldn’t be handled by phone; this necessitated a few expensive trips back and forth across the country.  And it’s not just the money.  What’s your time worth?  Can you afford to handle this job for nothing?  In some states, executors are permitted to charge a fee that is a percentage of the value of the estate.  However, since this money comes out of the estate, taking a fee may cause conflict with family members.

If you agree to be an executor, be prepared to devote a great deal of time to the project.  Be patient and don’t let little things get to you.  Stay organized and check every detail.  You will get through settling the estate…eventually.

For more information about estate planning and settling an estate, go to www.diesmart.com.


Need a death certificate? Here’s how to get one.

Someone wrote to us at diesmart.com and said she needed help finding an attorney so she could get an original death certificate of a deceased relative.

A death certificate is the official certified document which is filed upon a person’s death.  You might wonder why she would need an original or certified copy.  There are several possible reasons; here are just a few of them.

  • To settle an estate
  • To end government services such as Social Security or Medicaid
  • To collect on an insurance policy

We may not know the exact reason she needs one but there is one thing that is certain; she definitely doesn’t need an attorney to get a death certificate.

Here are the simple steps that she, and anyone else who needs one, should take.  There are several websites that offer to help you obtain copies of death certificates.  However, those copies are not certified or “official”.

1.  Determine whether you are eligible to receive a death certificate.  In most states, you must be a surviving relative of the deceased, their authorized representative or executor, or a funeral director in charge of the disposition of the deceased.

2.  Find the contact information for the department of vital statistics in the state where the person died.  This department may be part of the state’s department of health and human services or the state’s records department.  Regardless of its name, it is where all births, deaths, marriages and divorces are recorded for that state.  You can usually find the contact information by searching the web.  You will need the mailing address for submitting a request and, if you have questions about the process, you should also find their phone number.

3.  Some states require a letter with a great deal of information about the deceased as well as the requestor.  Others have a form available online which can be downloaded.  Regardless of whether it’s a letter or a form, you will have to provide the necessary information and either mail it to the facility or take it there.

Here’s the information that must be provided:

  •  Full name of the deceased
  • Date of the request
  • Deceased’s date of birth and date of death
  • Location of the death (city, state, county)
  • The deceased’s gender – male or female
  • Your relationship to the deceased
  • Why the certified copy of the death certificate is needed
  • A copy of your driver’s license or, at least, your driver’s license number and issuing state
  • Your name and current address
  • Your handwritten signature

4. Write a check for the amount due.  Most states charge between $10 and $15 per certified copy and it usually takes a week or 10 days for you to receive the copy.  In addition, some states offer same day service for a higher fee.

5.  Place the completed application or letter in an envelope, along with any identity documents and a check or money order to cover the fee.  Also enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope in which the certificate you’ve requested can be sent to you.  Mail this material to the department address which you obtained earlier.

Although a lawyer may be very helpful in resolving many of the issues that arise after someone dies.  However, he or she is not needed if you only want to receive a death certificate.

For more information about death certificates, go to www.diesmart.com.

25 Documents You Need Before You Die

Recently, the Wall Street Journal weekend edition had a very interesting article titled “25 Documents You Need Before You Die.”

Basically, it says that you should make sure that the originals of all of your valuable papers are put somewhere safe and that a loved one knows where that safe place is. Otherwise, when you become incapacitated or after you die there may be a great deal of frustration and unnecessary work as your heir or estate representative tries to figure out what you’ve done and how to prove it.

Check out this article and also check out Die Smart for more information on what to do.