You don’t have to be rich to have an estate. One of the great equalizers in life is that one day…we will all have estates. Often defined simply as all the money and property of the decedent, real-life estates can get more complicated.

The central document to any estate plan is the last will and testament. Through that document you can bequeath assets, arrange for your funeral, and leave messages to your survivors. You can even designate guardians for your children. In order for a will to take effect, it has to go through the probate process. 

A trust can do many of the same things as a will, but it does not have to go through the costly probate process to take effect. Trusts allow you to delay payments until an heir is a certain age, as well as other optional conditional provisions (like staying sober). 

Brokerage accounts have designated beneficiaries attached to them. Beneficiaries get paid directly, bypassing the estate and avoiding the probate process.  

When a person dies without a will or any beneficiaries, it is called dying intestate. This often leaves a mess for surviving family members, something that Judith Heft & Associates has helped with on many occasions. 

Steps to Settle an Estate

With the kids in mind, I created a to-do list for anyone finding themselves in charge of an estate:

  • Review the will
  • Pay funeral expenses and other debts
  • Gather several copies of death certificate, life insurance policies, real estate titles, military discharge papers, marriage and birth certificates
  • File will and probate petition – notify all interested parties
  • Secure personal property
  • Appraise and insure valuable assets
  • Cancel personal accounts (subscriptions and memberships)
  • Open an estate account
  • Gather financial assets like bank accounts, retirement accounts, brokerage, and savings accounts — as well as financial interests in partnerships and other businesses — and transfer them to the estate account
  • Determine cash needs — decide what needs to be liquidated in order to pay estate expenses and taxes
  • File taxes
  • Make final contributions and secure closing letters from IRS — distribute remaining funds in estate account and file for discharge of executor responsibilities.

We can help…but we also know that the simplest estate settlements occur when will and trust documents are up to date. Make sure you are revisiting these at minimum every 10 years…banks consolidate, you change accounts, your interests shift…it all needs to be noted in your trusts and estate documents. For more information contact us!