The attorneys with the Law Offices of Nay & Friedenberg make available this helpful checklist to use when a family member passes away.
There are some general issues that need to be addressed following a death. The following list is not meant to be all-inclusive, but to serve as guidance to the next of kin or an executor. Specific questions and concerns should be presented to an attorney for handling.
DOCUMENTS TO BE FOUND
1. Power of Attorney – This authority expires or ends with the death of the principal. No actions should be undertaken using the power of attorney after decedent’s death.
2. Last Will – There is no need for a formal reading of the will. If there are assets owned in the decedent’s name alone (not jointly owned or owned by a trust), those assets may have to be probated through the courts. Probate is the court process of changing ownership of assets according to the terms of a will. If there are probate assets, discuss them with your attorney. There are abbreviated procedures if the probate assets are under certain limits, but generally, it takes 6 months to a year for assets to be probated through the courts.
3. Life Insurance Policies – Claims for insurance usually require the original policy be surrendered and a certified death certificate be provided. Wait to make the claim for the policies until after you have discussed the matter with your attorney.
4. Relevant documents of ownership – Deeds to real property, titles to vehicles, stock and/or bond certificates, certificates of deposit, etc.
5. Original Trust Agreement, if applicable – Distribution of assets owned by a trust for the decedent is generally simpler and faster than court probate, but even so imposes certain obligations on the Trustee. The Trustee, or successor Trustee, may need to take explicit actions to take over management of the trust, including establishing a new trust taxpayer identification number for trust assets. The Trustee is required by law to provide notice to all beneficiaries and provide them with specific information. There may be survivorship, inheritance and/or income tax issues to be addressed. Consult with the attorney regarding these issues and what is necessary to properly administer, distribute and terminate the trust.
INCOME ISSUES TO BE ADDRESSED
1. Social Security – Unless you are certain it has already been done by the funeral home, notify Social Security by calling (800) 772-1213 or the local office listed in the phone book. The decedent has to live through the entire month to collect for that month, so checks received after the decedent’s death may have to be returned. If there is a spouse, inquire about Social Security increase and survivor benefits.
2. Pension – Notify the administrator of any pension plan and follow their direction regarding pension checks. If there is a spouse, inquire about any death benefit or survivor benefits.
3. Health Insurance – Notify any health insurance administrator(s).
4. Final state and federal income tax returns for the decedent will need to be filed. Contact a CPA or attorney.
5. Contact Medicaid caseworker, if appropriate.
ASSET ISSUES TO BE ADDRESSED
Wait to distribute the decedent’s assets to his/her beneficiaries until after you have consulted with the attorney. If there is a trust involved, you will need to make an accounting to trust beneficiaries in the form of a Trustee’s Report before distributing assets. The attorney can advise you in preparing the Report. The attorney can provide you with the information you need to close bank accounts, remove the decedent’s name from real property records, make claims against life insurance policies or annuities, or respond to an estate recovery claim from Medicaid. Additionally, the attorney can advise you of the tax issues to discuss with your C.P.A.
1. Certified death certificates are usually ordered by the funeral home. One certified certificate is usually needed for each of the following:
A. each life insurance claim;
B. each pension, 401(k), profit sharing plan, etc.;
C. each stock/bond company if stocks are jointly owned or part of the probate estate;
D. to record to transfer real property held jointly with another person with right of survivorship; and
E. for a small estate or probate proceeding in court.
2. Forward mail from business or residence if appropriate. Review mail for bills, debts of the decedent. Do not forget about property taxes.
3. Keep accurate records and documentation of all actions, bills paid, people notified and their instructions, etc.
4. Do not close out all accounts of the decedent or a trust until it is certain all checks that might come in that name have been received (for example, insurance premium refunds, tax returns, etc.).
Dealing with a loved one’s estate can be a difficult time. An experienced probate lawyer can help. Contact the probate lawyers with the Law Offices of Nay & Friedenberg in Portland, Oregon at (503) 245-0894 to set an appointment.