When a parent passes away, the family is usually at a loss as to how to handle their loved one’s estate. Our law firm can provide a comprehensive guide on what needs to be done when a parent dies. It is always good advice to consult with an experienced and qualified probate attorney to make sure you take care of everything.
The first step to take after your parent passes away
The first step in being able to handle your deceased parent’s affairs is to obtain a certified copy of his or her death certificate. In California, you can obtain a certified death certificate from the Recorder of the county where the person died. However, not everyone is authorized to obtain a copy of this important official record. The purpose of this limitation is to prevent identity theft. For this reason, the children of the deceased are authorized, with few exceptions. Remember to obtain several copies, as there will likely be different entities that will need a copy.
How to take care of your parent’s assets in the short term
A common misconception that many people have is that, if you already act as your parent’s agent-in-fact, through a power of attorney, you will automatically be able to act on his or her behalf after death. That is not the case because the authority you were given pursuant to the power of attorney is not valid after your parent’s death.
As a result, you will no longer be able to use their assets or access their accounts until you have obtained the appropriate legal authority. Instead, an executor must be appointed through the probate process to handle your parent’s affairs after death. If you are were intended to be the executor of your parent’s estate, then you are required to first initiate probate proceedings with the court before you can proceed any further.
An advantage of a properly established an maintained living trust plan is that the person named as the successor trustee can take over almost immediately after the death. Typically, presentation of a death certificate may be all that is required to show your authority.
Preparing yourself in advance
Though few people want to consider it, you can lessen the burden, during a time that is already difficult, by being prepared ahead of time. For instance, you should ask your parents, while they are still alive, where you can find the following important information:
- Wills or other estate planning documents
- Information regarding bank accounts and any investments
- Contact information for the executor if that is not you
- Mortgage details if there are any outstanding payments
- Information regarding other debtors
- Information regarding final arrangements
Having this information on hand, or at least knowing where to find it, can make those first few days much less stressful.
Basic executor duties you should be aware of
There are some basic duties that an executor is required to perform. But, the full extent of an executor’s duties depends entirely on the nature of the estate being probated. The duties of an executor officially begin with the application for probate of the estate. As executor, you will need to obtain Letters Testamentary when a will is involved, or Letters of Administration if there was no will. These require the commencement of a formal probate proceeding. Once that has been done, you need to locate the relevant documents, including estate planning documents and information regarding assets. If you need professional advice, contact our office.
Protecting your parent’s assets from loss
One of the primary duties of an executor is to protect your parent’s assets from loss. The first step in doing that is to create an inventory of all of your parent’s assets. That includes money, personal property, and real estate. The next step is creating a list of financial or legal liabilities and valid creditors. All valid creditors must be notified and then paid before the remaining estate can be distributed to heirs. Income and axes must also be paid, if applicable.
Final steps to take in administering the estate
After the creditors and taxes have been paid, the remaining assets can then be distributed to heirs and beneficiaries. In some cases, it may be necessary to sell property or create trusts, if required by the provisions of the will or some other estate planning documents. It is important to remember that the executor will be expected to provide a final accounting of every transaction related to the estate. Therefore, it is crucial that you keep accurate records of those transactions as you go. Once the accounting is filed and approved by the court, the estate can be closed.
Discussing issues with a Sacramento probate attorney
At any point after the death of a parent, including while you may be serving as executor of your parent’s estate, you may need some assistance. It can be difficult dealing with the death of a parent. Add to that the responsibility of being an executor and it can be quite overwhelming. If you have any questions or concerns contact an experienced estate planning attorney.
If you have questions regarding estate administration, or any other estate planning needs, contact the Northern California Center for Estate Planning and Elder Law for a consultation, either online or by calling us at (916) 437-3500.