This is an article from the Northern California Center for Estate Planning and Elder Law (https://www.norcalplanners.com/) in Roseville, California, that we thought others may find helpful.
In many cases, when a parent dies the family is not quite sure what needs to be done legally, to handle their assets. For most, one of the children has been named executor of a will left by a parent. Here you can find a step-by-step guide to handling your parent’s estate after their death. It is still a good idea to consult with an estate planning attorney to make sure you have everything covered.
The first few days following your parent’s death
Before you can really start taking official actions on behalf of your deceased parent, you need to obtain a certified copy of the death certificate. You can obtain a certified death certificate from the county recorder’s office.
Only authorized individuals are allowed to obtain this record, in order to deter identity theft. Children are considered authorized individuals. You may need to obtain several copies, as there are various organizations that will need a copy in order for you to carry out certain transactions.
Within the first few days following your parent’s death, you will also need to arrange for their funeral or other services, depending on what your parent wanted. You will most likely need a copy of the death certificate to arrange for these services.
Managing your parents assets in the short term
If you were an agent for your parent through a power of attorney at the time of their death, that authority will no longer be valid. That means you should not attempt to use their assets or access their accounts until you have obtained the proper authority to do so. If you are to serve as your parent’s executor, then you need to open a probate for their estate in order to get the court’s authority to proceed any further.
How to be prepared in advance
Recognizing that your parent’s death is inevitable, you can reduce the burden on you at such a difficult time by being prepared. Discuss with your parents ahead of time where you can find the following information:
- The will or other estate planning documents
- Information regarding bank accounts and any investments
- Contact information for the executor if it’s not you
- Mortgage details if there’s any payment outstanding
- Information of any other debtors
- Information regarding their desired final arrangements (i.e., funeral, cremation)
Having this information on hand, or at least knowing where to find it, can make those first few days much easier to handle.
What to expect if you are the executor of a will
There are some basic duties that an executor of a will is required to perform, but the full extent of an executor’s duties depends entirely on the nature of the estate being probated. The duties of an executor officially begin with the application for probate of the estate, with the exception of very modest estates. As executor, you will need to obtain letters of testamentary from a court when a will is involved or letters of administration if there was no will. Once that has been done, you need to locate the relevant documents, including estate planning documents and information regarding assets.
Managing your parent’s assets
One of the primary duties of an executor is to protect your parent’s assets from loss. The first step in doing that is to create an inventory of all of your parent’s assets. That includes money, personal property and real estate. The next step is creating a list of financial or legal liabilities and valid creditors. All valid creditors must be notified and then paid before the remaining estate can be distributed to heirs. Taxes must also be paid, if applicable.
The final steps in administering your parent’s estate
After the creditors and taxes have been paid, the remaining assets can then be distributed to heirs and beneficiaries. In some cases, it may be necessary to sell property or create trusts, if required by the provisions of the will or other estate planning documents. It is important to remember that the executor will be expected to provide a final accounting of every transaction related to the estate. Therefore, it is crucial that you keep accurate records of those transactions as you go. Once the accounting is filed and approved by the court, the estate can be closed.
Seek the advice of an attorney if you need assistance
At some point after the death of a parent, including while you may be serving as executor of your parent’s estate, you will inevitably need some assistance. It can be difficult dealing with the death of a parent. Add to that the responsibility of being an executor and it can be quite overwhelming. If you have any questions or concerns contact an experienced and qualified estate planning and probate attorney.