What to Do after a Loved One Passes

The time after you lose a loved one is an emotional, stressful, and difficult time. This time can be made even more stressful if you have been named as the executor of your loved one’s estate or the successor trustee.

Learning about your role as the executor or trustee and understanding what will be expected of you can make the process less stressful and not as burdensome. Although every situation is different, here are some basic guidelines on what you should do in order to start the process of handling the estate of your loved one.

First, you want to determine whether your loved one already had an estate plan in place. You want to look for the Will and Trust, and if they exist, locate the original documents. These documents may be found in your loved one’s home, in a safety deposit box, or sometimes held by the drafting attorney. These documents will help you to identify who is responsible for settling the estate and hopefully advise you on how the assets should be divided. If your loved one did not have a Will or Trust in place, then California law on intestacy will determine how the estate will be divided.

After you have determined whether any estate planning documents exist, it is time to take an inventory of your loved one’s assets. If there is an estate plan in place, these documents will help in determining the assets. A Will, for instance, might point out specific items, such as a car, to be given to a certain person. A Trust contains what is usually labeled as the “Schedule A”, which is a list of assets that fall under the control of the trustee. You will need to identify all of the property that your loved one owned. This includes personal property, real property, financial accounts, or any other interests such as investments, contracts or promissory notes. You will want to obtain the deeds for any real property your loved one owned to determine how the title was held, and how it will pass on to the next owner. Once you know the value and type of assets, how title is held, and what estate plan documents exist, you will be able to determine if a formal probate administration is required or if the assets can be transferred through non-probate transfers such as beneficiary designations and a revocable trust, small estate administration procedures, and/or spousal transfers.  

Next you will need to identify any outstanding financial obligations that your loved one had. These can include any outstanding debts, such as a home mortgage, a car loan, or credit cards, as well as any personal loans or other financial obligations. Part of the process of settling the estate of your loved one will include notifying and settling with the creditors of the estate. This is a required part of the formal probate process.

Finally, after paying final expenses and debts, you will be able to distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries after providing them an accounting, if required. 

Losing a loved one is never easy. The above is an oversimplification of the time-consuming process of wrapping up your loved one’s affairs. However, choosing an attorney experienced in probate and trust law and estate planning can help guide you in settling your loved one’s estate more efficiently and with minimal stress. Our legal team at Naimish & Lewis is here to help. To schedule an initial consultation with an attorney at our firm, please contact us.