When a loved one dies, financial and legal matters demand attention

Whether your spouse has just passed away or you have lost your mom or dad, the emotional trauma of losing a loved one often comes with a bewildering array of financial and legal issues demanding attention. Unfortunately, it is necessary to get the financial matters in order while handling the emotional trauma of a death.

As the executor or personal representative named in the decedent’s will, you first should secure the tangible personal property, meaning such items as silverware, dishes, furniture or artwork.

The next step is to pay the bills; however, they can wait a week or two without any real repercussions. It is more important that you and your family have time to grieve. Financial matters can wait.

When you are ready — but not a day sooner — meet with an attorney to review the steps necessary to administer the will. While the exact rules of collection and distribution of assets differ from state to state, the key actions include:

File the will and petition in probate court in order to be appointed personal representative.

Collect the assets. This means that you need to find out about everything the deceased owned and file a list of inventory with the court.

Pay the bills and taxes. If an estate tax return is due, it must be filed within nine months of the date of death.

Distribute property to the heirs. Generally, executors do not pay out all of the estate assets until the period for creditors to make claims runs out which can be as long as a year.

Finally, you must file an account with the court listing any income to the estate since the date of death and all expenses and estate distributions.

While some of these steps can be avoided through trusts or joint ownership arrangements, whoever is left in charge still has to pay all debts, file tax returns and distribute the property to the rightful heirs.

• Karen Baldwin received her doctor of jurisprudence from University of Denver College of Law in 1970. Her practice is limited to wills, trusts, and probate and asset protection. She may be reached at 826-7888 or by email at kbaldwinattny@hotmail.com. This column is for general information only. Individual circumstances may change the advice given. Consult an estate planning attorney to discuss your specific needs.


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