Question: What are the initial steps one should take to begin the process of settling an estate?
Answer: This isn’t an exhaustive list, but here are some items to get you started.
1. Locate Will
One of the first things to do is to locate the original Will. The Will identifies who is nominated to settle the estate (Personal Representative) and delineate the deceased person’s wishes for how assets should be distributed.
2. Safeguard and Create an Inventory of Tangible Assets
One of the Personal Representative’s responsibilities is to safeguard the deceased person’s assets, including any tangible personal property. Establishing an inventory of the decedent’s property will be helpful in identifying what assets are part of the probate estate.
3. Identify Financial Accounts
Financial accounts that were owned as “joint tenants with rights of survivorship” and accounts that had one or more named beneficiaries will pass independently and outside of the Will. It will be important to identify and document the deceased person’s financial accounts, noting which had named beneficiaries or joint owners, and which did not.
4. Identify Creditors
You will also need to identify if the deceased person had any outstanding debts, such as mortgage loans, auto loans, credit card debt or other financial obligations. Part of the probate process involves notifying creditors, who then have a set period of time to assert a claim for payment.
5. Real Property Documentation
Locate property deeds for any real estate the deceased person owned or had an interest in, either as the sole owner, a joint owner or as a tenant in common (residences, investment properties and deeded timeshare interests).
As always, if you have any questions or would like to learn more, please contact Steve Shane at firstname.lastname@example.org or .
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Steve Shane provides strategic counseling to clients in need of estate administration, charitable giving and business continuity planning while minimizing estate, gift, and generation-skipping transfer tax exposure. He offers legal guidance to clients on asset protection and the proper disposition of assets in accordance with the client’s objectives, while employing tax planning techniques such as the use of irrevocable trusts, life insurance planning, lifetime gifts and charitable trust. He is also experienced with drafting documents for business planning, the incorporation and application for exemption for Private Foundations and the administration of decedents’ estates.
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