When a loved one dies: first, you grieve.

Next, as their successor trustee, there is a series of obligations that you must handle to put your loved one to rest and to manage their estate. Below is an initial checklist of key steps to get you started.

Before you begin the process, please reach out to your estate attorney for support, recommendations, and copies of all estate planning documents and paperwork. We will also provide a more detailed checklist and other resources. And, if you choose, we guide you through the process or conduct the administration of your loved one’s estate on your behalf.

Step 1. Care for your loved one & the immediate needs of their dependents & estate.

Take the immediate steps needed, with support from family and friends, as you mourn your loss.

  • Arrange for organ donation.
  • Call a friend to stay with you.
  • Notify the medical examiner and funeral home.
  • Arrange for short-term care of dependents or pets.
  • Contact family and friends to notify them of the death of your loved one.
  • Determine burial wishes: check documents for cremation or burial plans.
  • Choose a funeral home and make arrangements.
  • Secure 20 copies of the death certificate.
  • Secure the estate. Make sure that the home is locked and any other assets and property are protected.
  • Keep a list of all money spent and keep all receipts, particularly for the funeral and bills incurred during your loved one’s final days.

Your estate attorney is here to help you through these first few days. We will provide recommendations and point you to your trust portfolio documents and information.

Timing: This occurs immediately after death.

Step 2. Initiate the process of trust or estate settlement.

Set up a consultation with your estate planning attorney. There are a number of documents to review and sign:

  • A new affidavit of trust that reflects the successor trustee or trustees
  • Authorization to discuss
  • EIN assignment letter

And, we will discuss post-mortem estate and income tax strategies, such as disclaimers and the funding of subtrusts. We can preserve portability—an important tax strategy—but only with timely filing of the estate tax return.

Timing: Set up the initial consultation within the first week, if possible.

Step 3. Notify your advisors & procure key documents.

Begin slowly after the funeral.

  • Determine if the trust owns the estate assets or is a beneficiary.
  • Gather your advisors: make appointments with your loved one’s financial advisor or planner. You’ll also need an accountant who specializes in estates; we can provide a referral or recommendation.

Timing: It will be most helpful if you can complete these steps within one week of your loved one’s passing.

Step 4. Map out critical deadlines.

  • If there are any assets not owned by the trust, the first deadline will be to officially open probate. If probate is necessary, we will provide additional information and resources to help guide you through the probate process.
  • Federal estate tax is due nine months after death. While you can file an extension to file the tax return, the estate taxes are still due and must be paid by the original deadline.

Timing: Determine all deadlines and begin planning no more than two weeks after death. You will need to begin the process of settling the estate within 30 days.

Step 5. Notify providers of benefits, pay bills, & secure financial accounts.

  • Contact all providers of benefits, such as insurance, social security, pensions, and Medicare. You’ll need to give them the following information:
    • Decedent’s name
    • Social security number
    • Date of death
    • Whether the death was due to an accident or illness
    • Your name and address
  • Notify other organizations and institutions, if applicable, including:
    • Employer
    • Financial institutions
    • Department of Veterans Affairs
    • Disability insurer
  • Secure all financial assets and stop unnecessary payments.
  • Contact the IRS to get a new tax identification number for the trust or the decedent’s portion of the trust.

If your loved one lived alone, make sure that all essential bills, such as mortgages and utilities, are being paid, and arrange for any needed maintenance or care of their home, such as trash disposal and lawn mowing.

Timing: Do your best to accomplish this within the first 30–60 days.

Guidelines and cautions.

Careful, please:

  • Pension and other retirement elections are tricky. Always check with an attorney for the best financial outcome.
  • Do not sell any assets until you understand the tax implications of the sale to the trust and its beneficiaries. Do not give away any assets, except for legitimate trust distributions.
  • Probate may have to be opened in states where any real estate is owned, as well as the state of residence.
  • Keep excellent records and check with the experts.
  • Remind your advisors to refer and speak to the specific trust plan, and not in generalities.

We know that you want to follow your loved one’s wishes. The trust document serves as an operating manual to guide your actions and will clearly list what your loved one intended.

If you have questions, please contact us to set up a consultation.

This post was written by Jessica Marchegiano, founder of JM Law and senior estate planning attorney.

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Disclaimer: Materials prepared by JM LAW, PLLC are for general informational purposes only. Educational material does not create an attorney-client relationship and is not an offer to represent you. You should not act or refrain from acting based on information provided.

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