The probate court has delivered Letters of Authority appointing you as Personal Representative of your loved one’s estate. So, now what? This is a tremendous responsibility, and it is easy to get overwhelmed by the long list of what needs to be done, all the different court requirements and deadlines, and the arduous processes of administering the estate. To help keep your head above the water, I thought I would share some of the tips I often give to my clients when they are just starting out:
Forwarding the deceased’s mail to your address may not seem like such a big step, but it is one of the primary ways in which we keep track of your loved one’s debts and possible assets. Creditors will likely send mail to the deceased directly, and with mail forwarding, you can pass those along for us to handle.
Similarly, the deceased may receive statements from bank accounts and notices of distributions from stocks. We can then reach out to those banks and investment companies and liquidate the funds into the Estate’s bank account.
Do all of their heirs/beneficiaries get along?
You can keep all the family happy some of the time, but no family gets along all of the time. You might want to consider your family’s dynamic: does everyone generally get along with one another? Or is there bad blood, or even people who are not on speaking terms?
How much these individuals will be willing to cooperate with you in administering the Estate might depend on family dynamics before you lost your loved one. This can come into play in numerous ways: when selling assets of the Estate, whether it is necessary to file certain notices to all interested parties, and how quick and easy closing the Estate will be. If people are generally not getting along in the family, you will want to make sure you are as transparent as possible about the actions you take in administering the Estate under your authority as Personal Representative.
Clean out the house
It’s a bit of a no-brainer, but whether you are planning on selling the deceased’s house or not, it would be a good idea to clean up the house. This means not only making the house presentable for sale but also making sure you are securing valuable personal property as well as memorabilia and mementos with sentimental value. You should come to an agreement with the rest of the family regarding how the personal property, such as family photo albums and the deceased’s clothing, will be divided.
I would recommend these steps even for Personal Representatives planning to keep the home in the family. It is a good way to stay organized, discover assets you may not have been aware of, allow everybody to have something of the Decedent’s early on in the probate process, and it can help some heirs with the grieving process.
How about rents and income?
This will not apply to everyone, but some Personal Representatives will find that their deceased owned multiple real estate properties in life, and maybe even a business or two. In these cases, be on the lookout for any rents that have been paid or you know are due and owing. For a business, try to locate Articles of Incorporation, a partnership agreement, or any similarly-named contracts.
Critically, this is where mail forwarding comes in handy. You may receive tax documents relating to the deceased’s businesses, or rents mailed in by real property tenants. When you have gathered this information, your probate attorneys will help you administer the rented properties or businesses, whether that means selling or continuing the business or rental property.
What about debts?
While not all the Decedent’s debts have to be paid, it is important to determine which ones do need to be paid to protect the assets of the estate. For example, if the estate includes a home, maintaining the insurance, taxes, and utilities is important to protecting the property before it is transferred or sold. The same goes for the mortgage. But it is not always easy to tell which bills need to be paid and if there is a shortage of liquid assets, what the priority for payment should be. A probate attorney can help guide you through this issue and ensure you are maximizing the value of the estate for the heirs.
The inevitable tax documents
Two things are inevitable in life, and one of those things is taxes. As Personal Representative of the Estate, you are obligated to determine whether you must pay taxes for the deceased’s last year of life and/or estate taxes. To aid you in this determination, if you do not have knowledge or expertise in fiduciary tax filings, please consult a tax professional.
In general, you will want to keep an eye out for the usual income-based tax forms such as 1099s and W-2s. However, if you sell real estate as part of your administration, you should also hold onto closing documents.
Obviously, this list is far from exhaustive, but we hope it gives you an idea of how to stay grounded in a complex and confusing process. These basics should help you figure out the priorities in Estate administration, and for everything else, it doesn’t hurt to open a probate estate with the Pros. Contact us for a free consultation to see how we can help you.
Contact us today to start planning: 248.399.3300 or Info@TheProbatePro.com.
Written by Zachary Trosch, attorney at The Probate Pro.