If you’ve been appointed as executor (in Arizona, the term is Personal Representative) of a loved one’s estate, or as successor trustee, and that person passes away, your grief, not to mention your to-do list (e.g. funeral planning, coordinating visiting loved ones, eventually meeting with the family estate attorney), can become quite overwhelming.  It’s important to know that, first and foremost, taking care of yourself and any dependents the loved one may have left behind is the single-most important responsibility during this time.  Secondly, you should immediately take steps to protect physical assets such as real estate, business interests, and vehicles.

Eventually, though, you will need to turn your attention to handling the “business” end of things.  To initiate that process, our firm’s recommendation is to inform us of the passing within as soon as you can.  At that point, we’ll typically inform the Personal Representative/Trustee of the priority items to begin working on prior to having our first face-to-face consultation.  Here’s a quick checklist of crucial, most-immediate items to address early on in the estate administration process, some of which can begin prior to visiting our office.  We know handling these matters during the grieving process is extremely difficult.  We are always a call away, ready to lighten your burden, as is appropriate.

  • Ensure an adequate number of official death certificates are ordered.  The number needed will vary depending on the assets and the number of entities with which we will be dealing.
  • Secure the deceased’s personal property (in the vehicle, home, or at his/her employer’s office).
  • Notify the Social Security office and any pension providers.
  • Notify the post office.
  • Take care of any Medicare details which may need attention.
  • Contact the deceased’s employer to find out about potential workplace benefits.
  • Consider stopping health insurance and notifying relevant insurance companies.
  • Get ready to meet with a qualified probate and trust administration attorney.  Depending on the circumstances, a probate, trust administration, and/or estate administration may be necessary.  Here’s what you’ll need to gather:
  1. The deceased’s will and/or trust (if he/she left one/these). If the original will or trust cannot be located, contact us as soon as possible and bring any copies you do have.
  2. A list of the deceased’s bills and debts. It’s often easier to bring the statements or the actual credit cards into the office rather than try to write out a list (but do whatever is easiest for you).
  3. A list of the deceased’s financial advisor(s), insurance agent(s), tax professional(s), and other professional advisors.
  4. A list of the deceased’s surviving family members, including their contact information (if available).  Even if they’re not named in the will/trust, the attorney will need to know about everyone in the family.
  • If the deceased wrote an ethical will (which typically includes a statement of burial/cremation wishes, guidance regarding a memorial service, and/or sentimental “last words” to close loved ones), share that with the appropriate parties in a venue set aside for the occasion.  You may even want to print it and make copies for certain individuals.
  • Cancel your loved one’s driver’s license, passport, voter’s registration, and club memberships.
  • Close out email and social media accounts and shut down websites no longer needed.  Depending on circumstances, you may need to wait until you’ve “formally” taken control over the estate to take these steps.

WARNING:  You may be thinking about handling all the estate matters and paperwork yourself.  It’s a tempting thought – why not keep things as simple as possible?  But do realize a do-it-yourself approach, aside from very straightforward circumstances, almost always leads to much larger problems later and sometimes even personal liability to the estate’s heirs!  Because of this, always remember to:

  • Seek professional counsel to avoid even the appearance of impropriety when handling an estate.
  • Realize that errors of omission and accident can be costly – even if your intent was good.  For instance, a Personal Representative/Trustee who makes distributions from an estate too soon can get into serious trouble.  A Personal Representative/Trustee’s personal assets can wind up in jeopardy if his or her actions cause an estate to become insolvent!
  • Realize that even if you’re well organized and knowledgeable about probate and estate law, it’s surprisingly hard to anticipate what can go wrong.  There are many ways to end up in hot water when you’re handling the estate or trust of a loved one.

We’re here to help you steer clear of the obstacles and free you to focus on yourself and your family during this difficult time.  Contact us for assistance.  We can help you manage estate and trust-related concerns as well as point you towards other useful resources.

As always, it is our pleasure serving you with your estate planning and probate needs! You may always contact us at (480) 456 – 1144.

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