Usually clients meet with us after a loved one’s funeral services are complete and clients are going through the grieving process. Unfortunately, financial and legal matters can not wait. Many clients have extensive knowledge and involvement; some have no information; either they were not involved or the loved one was private with their affairs. What needs to be done financially and legally really depends on so many factors. We provide a consultation, and meet with families to find out what is out there; debts, taxes, how accounts are titled, and if beneficiaries are listed. Sources such as tax returns, credit reports, safety deposit box contents, paper account statements, and estate planning documents are a first place to review. Indiana law allows a three (3) business day Affidavit in which we can get obtain much of this information on behalf of clients.
We always recommend contacting the three (3) major credit agencies to prevent identity theft of the decedent, and social media platforms, such as Facebook. Secure tangible personal property (items you can touch) and real estate; and make sure insurance and other payments/taxes are current. Notify the post office and forward mail to the responsible person. Determine which decedent’s payments need to be stopped or entitled to refund if the deceased paid a bill or account in advance. We always advise the client to check with current and past employers of the decedent of any potential benefits, such as death/life insurance or retirement benefits. If the decedent was receiving Social Security, Veteran’s benefits, or any pension, the appropriate agency or company will need to be notified immediately as well.
If the decedent was a client before death, a discussion and documents would have been generated such as our “Peace of Mind Box” (click here to access the free form on my website)-list of documents, accounts, passwords, and important advisors, such as accountants, attorneys, investment advisors, and insurance representatives; listing of beneficiaries on accounts/life insurance/retirement accounts. Estate planning such as Wills/Trusts would have been generated.
Other attorneys might have prepared estate planning documents recently, or years ago; or some people have nothing in place. Some people will have beneficiaries on accounts (payable on death “POD”) or joint accounts that transfers automatically to the remaining person(s) on the account or asset; or accounts or other assets in a decedent’s name only.
As an estate administration attorney, the next steps would depend on information obtained as noted above. Many times a lot has to be done; other times, very little. The legal costs/steps and timeline would vary. We advise clients after we learn what is out there and if they want to proceed with us representing them.