Settling the Estate While You’re Trying to Grieve

Grief does not go away after the funeral, not after the estate is settled, not a year after that, not even ever.

Yet the settling of the estate needs doing: Where do I start? What shall I bring to our first conversation? For most people, handling an estate is a first time thing. So:

What is the job of “settling an estate?”

There are really only 5 tasks:

1. Collect the assets

2. Pay the bills

3. Determine and pay any necessary death taxes

4. Distribute what’s left to the correct people

5. Account for every penny in and every penny out

That’s pretty much it. All other things you have heard about fit within these 5 tasks.

What do I bring to our first conversation?

Here the list is a bit longer, just to account for all the different things people might have. Your father (for this list we assume that you are dealing with the estate of your father, as an example) probably did not have all of these things:

1. Your list of questions. This is the absolute most important thing to bring. Start the list early and add to it whenever a question comes to mind.

2. List of important people: surviving spouse, children (living or dead), grandchildren. For each of these we will need full name, middle initial, address, social security number, and any special situation, such as if they are on disability or receiving Medicaid or SSI, or if they have a special medical or other condition.

3. The original Will and all amendments (called “Codicils”) to it.

4. The original Trust and all amendments to it.

5. Bank statements for all accounts that had your father’s name in any fashion. For instance, his separate checking account statements will be needed, as well as the ones he had joint with his wife, and the ones he had “pay on death” or “in trust for” another person.

6. Brokerage and stock and bond and mutual fund account statements that had your father’s name in any fashion.

7. Annuity statement that had your father’s name in any fashion.

8. Deeds for real estate that had your father’s name in any fashion.

9. Trust account statements for any trust your father set up or any in which he was at his death a beneficiary.

10. Patents, trademarks or copyrights your father owned.

11. Pension, profit sharing and 401(k) statements.

12. IRA statements.

13. Life insurance policies covering the life of your father, whether he owned them, or his spouse or a child owned them, or even if a trust or a corporstion owned them.

14. Vehicle titles which had your father’s name in any fashion.

15. Latest financial statements for any business in which your father had any interest.

16. Information about any amounts owed to your father by other persons, such as for money lent to his children or grandchildren.

17. List of debts owed by your father, including possible final bills to doctors, hospitals, ambulance services, nursing homes, and the like.

18. Court documents for any law suits in which your father was involved, whether he was suing someone, or someone was suing him. Include here any law suits you suspect might soon be filed, such as any arising out of his manner of death.

19. You might also consult the list of assets in our 6 Steps Checklist for other ideas.

Don’t worry if you cannot gather all these materials for the first conference. There will be time to get them later. The most important is number 1.

We will take things one step at a time. Nothing need be overwhelming.

Our way of helping people settle estates is like a dance. You lead. We will do as little or as much of the work as you like. That way you have some control over the costs.

Administering estates is a three hump camel:

Normally, there is a lot of work when we first get started; then there is another hump in the middle when we determine if we need to file any death tax returns (the federal government has an “Estate Tax,” and the state of Indiana has an “Inheritance Tax”); finally, when we prepare and file the final accounting and make distribution there is a third hump.

If in the course of things you need to take some time for your grieving, that is normal. The work of settling an estate has some deadlines, but they are usually months off and people do not push too hard. We all know it is not an easy time for anyone.

How can we make it easier for you?

:- Doug.

Copyright © 2017, Douglas D. Germann, Sr., Professional Corporation.
574/291-0022, fax 574/291-0024, PO Box 2796, South Bend, IN 46680-2796