When a loved one passes away, we typically focus on the emotional impact of that loss during the immediate aftermath. Someone, however, must also focus on the legal steps that need to be taken following a death. If that person is you, and you have never before been in this position, you likely don’t know where to begin. A Carmel Probate attorney at Frank & Kraft explains some of the most common legal steps that must be taken following the death of a loved one.
Who Is in Charge?
Often, the first major decision that must be made is to determine who is in charge of handling the legal steps. If the decedent left behind a Last Will and Testament, that document should indicate who the Executor of the estate is. The Executor is the person the decedent appointed to oversee the probate of the estate. If the decedent died intestate, or without a Will, someone will typically volunteer to be the Administrator of the estate. For the most part, an and an Administrator have the same duties and responsibilities during the probate of an estate. To simply things, we often refer to either an Executor of an Administrator as the “Personal Representative” of the estate.
Legal Steps Required after a Death
If you are the one handling the legalities following the death of a loved one, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced probate attorney to ensure that you understand what needs to occur given the unique facts and circumstances of your situation. Some of the most common steps that need to be taken, however, include:
- Determining what type of probate is required – as soon after the decedent’s death as possible someone needs to estimate the value of the estate for the purpose of deciding which type of probate will be required. In Indiana, estates with probate assets valued at less than $50,000 may qualify for a simplified probate process. This requires you to first categorize assets as probate or non-probate. Common examples of non-probate assets include assets held in a trust, proceeds of a life insurance policy, certain types of jointly held property, and financial accounts with a POD or TOD designation.
- Requesting the death certificate. Your will likely need several certified copies of the decedent’s death certificate which should be available within several days of his/her death. The Indiana State Department of Health explains how you may obtain a certified copy on its website.
- Make funeral and burial arrangements. The details of this steps will depend, to a great extent, on whether the decedent pre-planned his/her own service or not. When you check for estate planning documents, look for a pre-paid funeral contract or for a funeral trust agreement. If a contract exists, contact the funeral home that is a party to the contract. If the decedent created a funeral trust, the person named as the Trustee in that trust agreement is responsible for administering the trust.
- Initiating the probate process – if the estate does not qualify for a simplified probate process, it is important to get the formal process started as soon as possible for several reasons. One reason is so the court can issue the “Letters Testamentary” that give the Personal Representative the authority to do things such as close accounts, open safe deposit boxes, and manage real property owned by the decedent. To initiate probate, you will need to prepare the appropriate petition and file that, along with the original Will and a copy of the death certificate, with the appropriate probate court.
- Secure assets. Financial and investment accounts owned by the decedent must be closed. You must take control of real property and secure personal property. If the decedent owned a safety deposit box, you should at least inventory the contents of that box. In short, you must make sure that all assets are accounted for and under your control until such time as you are allowed by law to transfer them to the new owners.
Contact a Carmel Probate Attorney
For more information, please sign up for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions or concerns about the legal steps that need to follow the death of a loved one, contact an experienced Carmel Probate attorney at Frank & Kraft by calling (317) 684-1100 to schedule an appointment.
Mr. Kraft assists clients primarily in the areas of estate planning and administration, Medicaid planning, federal and state taxation, real estate and corporate law, bringing the added perspective of an accounting background to his work.
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