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After losing a loved one, it can be a very confusing and emotional time and families are often at a loss as to all there is to do to get the affairs in order and where to start. So, we have compiled a checklist to assist families through the process. The list is not exhaustive, so if you have a situation that is not covered, please feel free to give me a call.

Karen Stewart Estate Planning Attorney
  1.   Contact the Social Security Administration (and Veterans Administration, if applicable) to let them know of the death. A death benefit of $255 may be payable to the family.
  2.   If there is a house, you will need to secure the home by changing the locks. That way, you can keep beneficiaries or others from removing items from the home, which may cause family feuds. It will also give you time to inventory assets in the home.
  3.   Request the post office to forward all mail to you.
  4.   Check with the employer as to any unpaid wages or benefits, life insurance and pensions.
  5.   Compile a list of assets and how they are titled, i.e. jointly held with another, held in trust, etc. and if there are any beneficiary designations. Assets in the deceased’s name alone that have no beneficiary designation will need to go through the Probate Court.
  6.   Look for estate planning documents, i.e. a Last Will and Testament or a Revocable Living Trust. If there is a safe deposit box, you should collect all items held in the box.
  7.   In addition to serving a copy of the estate plan documents to beneficiaries, you are also required to give them an initial Inventory of estate assets and annual accountings as to estate income and expenses. Thus, you will need to value the initial assets, which may require appraisals for real estate or valuable personal items.
  8.   Compile a list of liabilities (mortgage and other debts) and ongoing expenses such as utilities.
  9.   File a Claims Notice with the Legal News to give unknown creditors 4 months to file a claim or their claim is barred. The claims notice should also be sent to known creditors to time bar their claims, if necessary.
  10. Maintain insurance on real estate and valuable personal assets.
  11. Contact companies regarding IRAs, 401ks, life insurance and annuities to submit claim forms.
  12. Get a tax ID# (also called an EIN) for the Estate from the IRS, if necessary. You will need a tax ID # to set up the estate bank account and to file tax returns for the estate.
  13. Set up an estate bank account and/or transfer bank accounts to the joint owner or beneficiary. Run all estate transactions through the estate bank account, such as depositing receipts and paying expenses. Keep a detailed list of all transactions to be used in preparation of accountings.
  14. File the deceased’s final personal income tax return. Annual income tax returns for the Estate are required if the Estate earns more than $600 in a one year period, but your accountant may also advise doing returns to pass expenses on to beneficiaries.
  15. Transfer titles to vehicles to beneficiaries. If no other assets are to be probated, the Secretary of State’s Office will transfer vehicles up to $60,000 in value without probate.
  16. Sell real estate or transfer to beneficiaries. Remember to keep enough money in the estate bank account to cover expenses while the property is listed for sale.
  17. Make sure you pay off the funeral expenses and all creditors before distributing to beneficiaries. If the debts exceed the value of the Estate, the beneficiaries are not responsible for the excess debt unless they have co-signed or are a joint debtor.
  18. The executor of the Estate is allowed to take a reasonable fee for his or her services, so log your hours right from the start, even if you don’t think you will take a fee. Sometimes, people change their minds once they realize all there is to do and wish they had kept records.
  19. Cancel all credit cards and tear them up. Cancel subscriptions, health and car insurance, utilities etc. that are in the deceased’s name.
  20. Be very careful when distributing the personal property such as china, silver, jewelry, art work, family heirlooms, household furnishings etc. This is an area that has a lot of emotion attached to it and frequently causes the most problems.
Remember that as executor, you are a fiduciary and owe a duty to the beneficiaries to administer the estate in a proper manner and to keep them reasonably informed as to estate matters. Utilize our services as your attorney if you are unsure as to how to proceed, such as valuing assets, preparing accountings, informing beneficiaries, obtaining tax ID #s, filing claims notices, etc. And ask us lots of questions along the way. We are here to assist and protect you in your duties as executor.


“Karen, we really, really appreciate you! The better the planning we do, the luckier we have been, which is why I brought Aunt Betty to you 14 years ago, and we have sought your advice throughout. She is at peace knowing she doesn't need to worry about managing estate-related choices in her final days.“

Jay Smith

“Thanks for taking such good care of us and making it easy to ask questions. I appreciate not being made to feel stupid for asking questions. It was a lovely gift at a tough time.“

Charlie Patricolo

“Throughout the emotional roller coaster ride as my father’s Trustee, I am grateful you were there for me. You kept me grounded and focused on the job at hand, when I could easily have let my emotions take over. I am sure my Dad is smiling down on how everything came together, and happy I stayed with you as my legal counsel. I know I am certainly smiling. Thank you again.”

Lynn Speerschneider

“I would not hesitate to contact Karen in the future, or recommend her to friends and family, for estate planning needs. She made a confusing process very easy and painless.”

Top qualities: Personable, Good Value, On Time

“Karen is very personable and professional. Her method of determining my estate planning needs minimized the amount of time and effort on my part. She generated an estate plan that was fully customized for my special situation. It was a pleasure to work with her. I will continue to recommend her to my associates and friends.”

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0

“I’d like to start by saying THANK YOU! For the first time in my life I found myself in trouble. I spoke with you and realized that I was speaking to a warm and sensitive person. After our discussion, you referred me to someone you felt more appropriate or fitting to my situation. I am grateful to you both! If I need a Lawyer or a CPA again, I would want the support and guidance of the two of you! Thank you again, you have made a difference in my life!”

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0

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