Managing the Death of a Loved One: Legal Steps to Consider
Guest Article Written By Estate Planning Lawyer Martha Burkhardt (Burkhardt Law)
After a loved one has passed, there’s so many things to manage: emotions, family, expenses. It can be absolutely overwhelming just knowing where to start.
While overwhelming, there’s very few things that need to happen quickly. The more important aspect is to handle things efficiently and take the time to grieve. When ready these tips are good items to begin with:
1 – Don’t Touch Money without Knowing the Consequence
Most inheritances do not have a tax consequence. But do you know which do? There could be a tax consequence (especially with the potential tax reforms) you aren’t sure about. So, before you take money out of an account, it’s really important to know if there will be a tax consequence. I would strongly recommend talking to a licensed financial advisor before moving money around. Specifically, retirement money can have tax consequences and those should always be determined before moving it.
2 – Don’t Pay Unnecessary Bills (unless you want to)
In most circumstances, you are not responsible for the debts of a person who has passed. So, unless you want to (and some people do), it’s not necessary to pay all of your loved one’s bills. However, any assets that you will be keeping (house, car, etc.), you should continue to pay. This would include loans, utilities, and insurance among others. Also, if your name is on the debt, credit cards for instance, you will be personal responsible for the bill and you should pay that debt.
3 – Tax Filings and Advice
There will often be an income tax return to file and could be money from retirement accounts that will require tax advice. Because there are strict deadlines with tax filings and the transfer of taxable money, a licensed CPA should be a priority in those first few weeks.
4 – Accessing Assets
Before knowing how to access a specific account or asset, you must know they exist. So the first step is making a list of all the assets. A bank statement is a great place to start. It will show any incoming money and outgoing expenses which may provide insight on where assets are. Any type of statements you can find are going to be very helpful.
The next question then is how do you access these accounts and assets. The simple answer is the holding company will tell you. Hopefully, it’s as simple as a death certificate. More often it’s a court order. If you are told you need a small estate affidavit, letters of administration, or letters of testamentary, it’s time for probate and if you’re in St. Louis County that means starting with an attorney.
5 – The Will
If there is a will, the will must be admitted into court within one year of the date of death. This means it really isn’t something that needs to be addressed quickly. However, if you have not found yourself in need of probate within the first several months, it should be a priority to admit it into probate court within that first year. If the will is not admitted, even if it is “filed” with the court, within that first year, it will no longer control.
Hopefully this list is a helpful place to get started. Remember, very few things take priority over mourning and family, but we’re here to help as you need it.