When a loved one dies, it is important to know what to do and what not to do. Much of it will depend on whether your loved one had a Last Will and Testament or a Revocable Trust and how the deceased person’s assets are titled at the time of death, since assets can be transferred in one of three ways:
- beneficiary designation (bypasses probate)
- trust administration (bypasses probate)
Probate is a legal proceeding whereby the court appoints a personal representative (in some states known as an executor) to administer the estate of the deceased. This is oftentimes a family member or close friend of the deceased. If the deceased had a Will, the person nominated in the Will is likely to be appointed as the Personal Representative. If the deceased did not have a Will, the law determines who has priority to serve as personal representative. In Colorado, a spouse, adult child, and surviving parents would have priority, in that order. Again, if a person were nominated in a Will, that person would have priority over everyone.
What TO Do
Immediately after death, the following actions should be taken:
- Locate estate planning documents (Will/Trust) (this may be particularly important if the decedent left burial or memorial instructions)
- Begin collecting the mail or forward it to the personal representative (this will assist in identifying where the decedent held accounts and what services the decedent may have been receiving that may need to be cancelled or changed)
- Begin determining what assets you loved one owned, how they were titled and whether there was a beneficiary designation on each asset
- Secure pets
- Secure the deceased person’s property, including the home and car
- Determine whether a probate needs to be opened
What NOT to Do
Immediately after death, the following actions should NOT be taken:
- distribution of personal property
- operation of the deceased person’s care
- closure of accounts (this is especially true where the decedent may have auto deposits coming in or autopay for things like the mortgage, and utilities going out)
- payment of any bills (there is a statutory priority for paying creditors and the personal representative may be personally liable if a lower level creditor gets paid and then there are not sufficient assets to pay the higher priority creditors)
Opening a Probate Case
If you determine that a probate needs to be opened or you are unsure of how to open a probate, it is important to seek legal counsel.
Author: Charlotte R. Landvik
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