If you’ve recently lost a loved one, it’s safe to assume you have a lot on your plate. Of course, you’ll want to take time to deal with your grief and loss. However, at some point, you’ll need to address the issue of their estate. Part of the reason for tending to such matters is to ensure that your loved one’s wishes and requests are respected. Additionally, dealing with estate matters can minimize the potential for problems within the family concerning how an estate is divided or managed. An attorney specializing in family law can be a valuable source of information as you start to sort through estate-related issues. Here are some questions to ask when you meet with an estate attorney after the death of a loved one.
1. My loved one signed a power of attorney while alive, but is it still valid after death?
No. A power of attorney, no matter why it was signed or what specific powers it granted to a designated individual, is no longer valid after your loved one’s death. The personal representative or executor appointed by the court will manage the estate.
2. Can I take sentimental items I know my loved one wanted me to have?
An estate has to be officially “opened” after death to determine what assets are included with it. If you or other family members start claiming dibs on things, it may be difficult to recover anything that’s been taken.
3. If my loved one had little or no money, does an estate still need to be opened?
Yes. The reason for this is because the decedent may have taxes or other debts that will need to be paid or taken out of any available assets. The last thing you want is to be contacted by the IRS about unpaid taxes or other obligations after everything has been divided up, claimed by other family members, or even sold or used for other purposes. The IRS has the right to open an estate and pursue the property owner to collect on any unpaid taxes.
4. What if I’m not sure if my loved one had a will?
Before doing anything, make an effort to see if you can find a will, even if you’re not personally aware of one existing. Check with your loved one’s attorney to see if they know if a will exists. Also, check with their bank to see if there’s a safety deposit box that may contain a will. If a will is found, it will not be acted upon until the court admits it to probate.
5. Am I responsible for taxes not covered by the estate?
No. Taxes and debts are the responsibility of the estate. However, if there are not sufficient funds available in the estate, you or anybody else named in a will are not automatically responsible for those obligations. While many family members do pay off debts because they believe it’s the right thing to do, there is no legal obligation to do so.
6. Can creditors open an estate?
After a certain amount of time has passed, creditors are legally able to open an estate. While some families believe they are protecting their loved one’s estate by keeping it closed, doing so can result in some legal headaches. Additionally, if creditors insist that an estate be opened, the court will likely appoint an independent third party as the personal representative or executor.
7. Who needs to contact me after my loved one’s death?
Aside from family members, you’ll also want to contact creditors and anybody else who normally sends bills or takes money out of any bank accounts your loved one may have maintained. This includes credit card companies, cellphone carriers, and utilities. Many funeral homes will automatically stop Social Security payments, although you’ll want to confirm this to be sure. Also, make sure you stop any payments that are automatically taken out of your loved one’s bank account.
8. Where do I get copies of the death certificate?
Most funeral homes will help you get death certificates. If you need extra copies, either ask the funeral director if they can get some made for you or contact your local Department of Vital Records.
9. What should I do about income taxes?
If you’re not sure about the status of your loved one’s taxes, meet with an accountant to go over all tax documentation you have for them. They can also help you with any issues with the current year’s tax documents.
10. What about bank accounts?
Some banks will ask to see a copy of a death certificate before they close an account, especially if it was only in your loved one’s name. Leaving accounts open, even if there are no funds in them, may result in fees for lack of account activity.
11. How can I minimize family tensions?
It’s often a lack of communication that causes issues with suspicion or resentment among certain family members. While there is no way to predict how anyone in your family will act or what issues they may have with whoever is managing the estate, making an effort to keep everyone informed may make it less likely you’ll have to deal with angry family members who feel like they’re being kept out of the loop. If you do find yourself dealing with family disputes, an estate attorney may be able to clarify the issues at the heart of the dispute.
The answers to any of these questions can help you make smart, well-informed decisions following the loss of a loved one. You may also be able to avoid potential mistakes that may complicate matters or unintentionally create other problems when the estate is opened. Consider writing down any additional questions specific to your situation before scheduling a meeting with an attorney. Doing so will ensure that you’re getting all of the information that matters most to you. An attorney can also provide any assistance you may need when you’re ready to make plans for your estate. To schedule an appointment with Ana Hessbrook Law Firm, click here.