One of your close relatives recently passed away and you found out you were appointed the trustee of the estate. You are wondering what to do now. Some items need to be done as required by law and others are necessary to make sure the estate settlement process runs smoothly.
I often tell people there are 20 things to do and it seems that they all need to get done as soon as possible. However they do not need to happen immediately, but they do need to prioritized.
The first thing to attend to is to determine if you have access to funds. You may need money to pay for the funeral or other expenses. Are you a joint owner of a bank account? If so, you will be able to access funds immediately. In the estate planning process, I usually tell my clients to add someone to their checking account so upon death there is an account accessible for immediate expenses. The account usually has just enough money to transition the estate to the trustee.
After you have accessed the bank account, you will need to verify who is in charge of the funeral arrangements. Personal papers need to be reviewed to see who is in charge of the funeral. Just because you were named as the trustee of the trust does not mean you are the person assigned to this duty. However, you will be the person who will have to pay for the funeral. Hopefully the decedent has pre-paid and pre planned the funeral but that is not always the case. Usually funds are used from the joint bank account, or if there is no joint bank account, then life insurance policies may be assigned to the funeral home.
After the funeral you will need to obtain death certificates. The death certificates are needed to be able to access trust accounts or open a probate.
If the decedent was collecting Social Security then Social Security needs to be contacted to let them know of the death and to stop all payments. If payments were made that were not earned then Social Security will want the benefits returned. Usually the Social Security Administration will electronically remove the funds from the account they were paid into. If there is a surviving spouse or surviving dependents, then benefits to those individuals will need to be addressed. Also, Social Security will issue of death benefit in the amount of $255 to a surviving spouse or dependent children.
You will also need to contact the decedent’s employer to stop any pension payments. Again if pension payments were made that were not earned, then the payments must be returned.
The next thing to do is to schedule an appointment with a qualified estate planning attorney. An attorney will be able to ask questions to determine what needs to be addressed. The attorney will want to review the estate planning documents, such as the will or living trust, and get an idea of the assets in the estate. You will also want to have the death certificate available for the attorney’s review.
The one thing you should not do before speaking with an attorney is pay debts of the decedent or dispose of any assets. This means you do not want to pay credit card or medical bills without finding out if they are required to be paid from the assets of the estate.
The estate administration process can be complex. Working with a qualified estate planning attorney will help ease the way through the maze of responsibilities.
For more information regarding the administration of an estate visit: https://www.sinclairprosserlaw.com/services/trust-administration-probate/trust-administration-probate-frequently-asked-questions/
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