Do I Need a Lawyer?
While there is no requirement to use a lawyer, probate is a rather formal procedure. One minor omission, one failure to send Great Aunt Tillie a copy of the petition, or a missed deadline, can cause everything to come to a grinding halt or expose everyone to liability.
The death of a family member or friend sometimes tends to bring out the very worst in some people. Experience shows that even in close families there is a tendency to get overly emotional about relatively trivial matters at the time of a loved one's death, such as who gets the iron frying pan and who gets the kettle. Such minor matters, or any delays or inconveniences can be upsetting, pose issues of fairness, and create unfounded suspicion among family members. Thus it generally is a very good idea to "let a lawyer do it".
Gathering Important Data
Locate as many of the following documents as possible:
Military Discharge Papers
Social Security/Insurance Card
Vehicle and Boat Titles
Before the business and legal issues of the estate can be pursued, it will be necessary to obtain certified copies of the death certificate. You can order them from the Funeral Director or directly from the Registrar of Vital Statistics in your area. It is always better to order a few more than what you think you will need. Most agencies will only accept certified death certificates and not photocopies.
In some cases, there may be a need to obtain a certified copy of the death certificate without a cause of death. These certificates are needed to transfer the title on a house, mobile home, and automobile or in some cases for court procedures. You should make this request when ordering the certified copies.
Estate Settlement Issues
Wills, probate, administrator, social security benefits, veterans benefits, insurance benefits, joint property, estate taxes and other issues may appear overwhelming after the death of a loved one. Sorting and settling all the details may be confusing because many of the terms are unfamiliar. Please feel free to print this document. This guide is not intended to be a substitute for specific individual tax, legal, or estate settlement advice, as certain of the described considerations will not be the same for every estate. Accordingly, where specific advice is necessary or appropriate, consultation with a competent professional is strongly recommended. Most of all keep in mind that while it is important to take care of all of these activities, it's more important to move slowly at a pace that is comfortable for you during your grieving process.
Bank and Safety Deposit Boxes
Because banks are subject to both state and federal regulations, procedures can vary greatly from bank to bank and state to state. Some states have been known to automatically freeze joint bank accounts when one of the joint owners dies. To avoid problems, contact your bank directly, to determine the amount of money accessible and learn the procedures for releasing these funds, and to establish a new account for funds received after the death. At least one joint checking or savings account should be left open for at least six months. This will allow you to deposit any checks that you are entitled to but are in the deceased's name. For instance, "Insurance Reimbursement Check". This check would be endorsed on the back as follows: "Deposit Only" with the deceased's name PRINTED underneath, followed by the bank account number.
If after six months you want to take the deceased's name off the account, the bank will want to have a Certified Copy of the Death Certificate. A Certified Copy will also be necessary for any accounts that are left "In Trust For" someone. (I.T.F.). Your bank can advise you regarding IRA's or CD's (Certificates of Deposit). Both will need a Certified Copy of the Death Certificate before they are released.
If the safety deposit box is in the sole ownership of the deceased. Banks will require a Certified Copy of the Death Certificate and Letters of Administration to gain access to the contents. On co-owned safety deposit boxes, the rules vary from state to state. Call your attorney or bank for their requirements.
Creditors should be notified promptly following a death. If there is to be a delay in meeting debts or installment payments, you may be able to file for extensions. Many creditors are sympathetic to these situations and are willing to grant your requests. If credit insurance or mortgage insurance policies were in force, purchases made on credit (vehicles, furniture, etc.) or the home mortgage may be paid off by the insurance. Ask your lending institution.
Brown's Memorial Funeral home staff are always standing by to answer any legal question you may have or basic advice you may require. Please never hesitate to call us at COMPANY_PHONE.