First and foremost, take the time you need to grieve for and remember the life of your loved one, in whatever way is best suited for you. There is little that needs to be done immediately. Actually, a decedent’s Last Will and Testament cannot even be probated at the courthouse until at least 30 days after the date of death. There are some estate tax elections that must be reported within nine months of death, but hopefully you will find time to visit an attorney who is experienced with estate administration well in advance of that timeframe closing.
When you find time to meet with your chosen estate administration attorney, it is best if you can bring your loved one’s Last Will and Testament, as well as any Trust documents (if applicable), with you to the meeting. Additionally, it is beneficial if you also bring a certified death certificate and copies (or originals) of all financial assets your loved one owned when he or she passed away. Having these documents at the meeting will allow you and your attorney to make the best use of the time you have together.
Once all of your loved one’s estate assets are identified, your attorney will be able to move forward with the estate administration. If your loved one passed away with a Last Will and Testament, the original document should be filed (or “probated”) at the courthouse in the county where your loved one resided when he or she passed away. At that time, the individual appointed in the Last Will and Testament will be appointed Personal Representative (or “Executor”/”Executrix”), giving that person the authority to act on behalf of the estate. Your attorney will most likely prepare all court documents and filings on behalf of the appointed Personal Representative. Once all assets are accounted for to the Clerk of Court and all debts and legal obligations have been paid, the remaining estate assets may be distributed to the beneficiaries named under the Last Will and Testament.
If your loved one passed away with all of his or her assets titled in a Revocable Living Trust, the estate administration process may be much simpler. It may not be necessary to account to the Clerk of Court at all regarding the decedent’s assets. Instead, it may be possible to simply distribute the decedent’s assets according to the terms of the trust (although this depends on a number of other considerations). This is only one of the benefits of having a Revocable Living Trust instead of a Last Will and Testament control the distribution of your property.