When a family member unexpectedly dies, his or her loved ones experience shock, disbelief, sadness and other challenging emotions as they grieve. Eventually, however, practical considerations arise and the family must address the deceased person’s estate.
This checklist can guide individuals who need to settle a family member’s estate without warning.
Locate the will
If the family does not know where the person kept his or her will, they should check desks, drawers, safe deposit boxes and other locations that contain important documents. If located, the will names an executor who will guide the process of settling the state. Ideally, the deceased person apprised the executor of this role and the location of the will. When the family cannot find a will, a family member can petition the court to name an administrator to serve the executor role.
Usually, the executor or administrator assembles a team to assist with the estate, especially when the person left more than $50,000 in assets. The executor should contact a certified public accountant who can help file the final tax return for the estate. He or she may also benefit from the advice of an attorney who specializes in estates.
Administer the estate
If the estate requires probate, the court will supervise the process of gathering the deceased person’s assets and settling debts. Otherwise, the court will give the executor permission to complete this process. He or she will ensure the accurate valuation of assets, pay bills and file the necessary paperwork with the court.
Discussing the estate planning process with aging family members can often ease the stress of this difficult time.