Grieve Grief is a natural part of loss, but it often clouds judgment and accelerates family conflict. Give yourself some time to let it all go before you have to start worrying about what comes next. Allow yourself some time and give yourself space to grieve. Locate Important Documents After the loss of a loved one, it is important to locate his or her estate planning documents, if possible. Estate planning documents such as an original will are important in determining funeral plans and afterlife wishes such as the distribution of the deceased’s estate. We encourage you to look for the following documents: A Last Will and Testament and/or a Trust All Insurance Policies (Life, Homeowners, Health, Disability, Auto, etc.) Credit Card Statements and an Up-to-Date Credit Report Investment and Retirement Accounts Such as IRAs, 401(k) plans, Mutual Funds, Pensions, etc. Most Recent Checking and Savings Account Statements Most Recent Mortgage Statements Most Recent Tax Returns (Two Years) Marriage Certificate(s) and Birth Certificates of the Decedent’s Children You will also need to order the Original Death certificate(s). We encourage families to order seven to ten death certificates. More if there are a lot of accounts to settle. What is Most Important? The most important thing to do is to determine whether the deceased left a will and/or a trust. If there is only a will, notify the Personal Representative named in the will. He or she is responsible for taking the last will and testament to probate court to prove the validity and oversee the distribution of assets to the beneficiaries. If there is a trust, contact the trustee right away. The trustee is responsible for managing and distributing the trust. What if you are the Trustee and/or Personal Representative? Protect the Assets An “estate” includes all of the assets and liabilities left by a person at the time of death. Your assets can range from anything you own such as real estate and bank accounts to things you could have an interest in, like investment accounts or retirement accounts. Taking an inventory of what your loved one owned, how they owned it, and help you “guesstimate” of the value of the asset will help you in administering the estate. How the assets are titled will affect how they are distributed. An inventory of your loved one’s assets makes sure they are protected. It is essential that assets are distributed according to the terms of a will or trust. It is illegal to distribute assets without going through the proper channels. Consult a Lawyer (Even If You Don’t Use One) After the loss of a loved one, the personal representative/trustee should consult with a lawyer. After you locate important documents, an attorney can advise you regarding your specific situation. The most important determination is if you need to go through the probate court to distribute the estate. A lawyer will also be able to advise you on the correct and legal way to distribute the estate which can protect you from unwanted legal issues. If your loved one had a comprehensive estate plan, you probably will have a smooth process, but if your loved one dies without a will, the process becomes more complicated. Remember The trauma of a loss is hard but following these simple tasks can help minimize your stress. Remember to grieve and take your time to process. Make sure you locate important financial and estate plan documents after the loss of a loved one. Take time to create an inventory of your loved one’s assets and determine the asset ownership. Finally, consult with an attorney after you have compiled your loved one’s important documents. Dana and Associates is here for you. If you have recently lost someone you love, schedule a free Family Administration Session to talk with an attorney to determine the next steps to administering your loved one’s estate. What if you are a Beneficiary? While we don’t live in a fairytale with clear cut good and evil, we do live in a day and age where familial dynamics are complex and intertwined. Multiple marriages, sibling rivalries, and dysfunctional families are some of the key ingredients that can lead to probate litigation. Add some dollar signs and this could be the juicy plot line for a daytime soap opera. Conflicts over trusts and estates can appear from nowhere; families may realize they have been deceived late in the game and unknown circumstances may appear from the shadows. Life can be messy, but sadly, so can the afterlife. We all have family-drama that continues on even after the passing of a loved one and sometimes this gives rise to probate litigation. What if something goes wrong? Disputes arise around deceit, greed, and/or miscommunication. Generally, probate litigation arises when an interested party believes that a wrong was done during the probate process or before a loved one passes. In many cases, a trust or will does not work as intended. Sometimes the will or trust was created by someone who lacked capacity. Or in other instances, someone was coerced or unduly influenced by a loved one or confidential relationship with them. Types of Probate Litigation Some common examples of where probate litigation can arise include: Challenging the validity of a will; Vagueness in the language of a will and trust; Claims of undue influence and lack of capacity; Multiple conflicting trust amendments or restatements; Suits against trustees or fiduciaries for failing to act according to the terms of a trust If you are faced with a contested probate matter, a probate litigation attorney may be necessary. Contested probate matters require the judgment and oversight from the probate court to resolve a dispute.