The emotional trauma brought on by the death of a close family member often is accompanied by bewilderment about the financial and legal steps the survivors must take. The spouse who passed away may have handled all the couple’s finances. Or perhaps a child must begin taking care of administering an estate about which he or she knows little. And this task may come on top of commitments to family and work that can’t be set aside. Finally, the estate itself may be in a disarray or scattered among many accountants, which is not unusual with a generation that saw banks collapse during the Depression.
Here we set out the steps the surviving family members should take. These responsibilities ultimately fall on whoever was appointed executor or personal representative in the deceased family member’s will. Matters can be a bit more complicated in the absence of a will, because it may not be clear who has the responsibility of carrying out these steps.
First, secure the tangible property. This means anything you can touch, such as silverware, dishes, furniture or artwork. You will need to determine accurate values of each piece of property, which may require appraisals. Later, you will distribute the property as the deceased directed. If property is passed around to family members before you have the opportunity to take an inventory, this will become a difficult, if not impossible, task. Of course, this does not apply to gifts the deceased may have made during life, which will not be part of his or her estate.
Second, take your time. You do not need to take any other steps immediately. While bills do need to be paid, they can wait a month or two without adverse repercussions. It ‘s 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 deceased’s estate. Bring as much information as possible about finances, taxes and debts. Don’t worry about putting the papers in order first; the lawyer will have experience in organizing and understanding confusing financial statements. Just bring all the information and papers you have to the meeting and go from there ……………..