You should be aware of several legal and financial matters that will emerge in the days following the death of a loved one. Having these matters settled beforehand helps to eliminate confusion and reduces delays in making sure your final wishes are followed.
We hope that you find these general guidelines helpful in planning and directing how you want your survivors to carry out your final wishes. If you have any questions, please consult with your attorney for specific legal advice or further information.
Learning about these topics and planning in advance will help your survivors in several ways:
- They will know exactly what your final wishes are
- Delays in settling your estate can be minimized
- Transferring your property to your designated survivors will be a more streamlined and much smoother process
First, you will need to appoint an executor for your estate.
An executor acts as your personal representative in matters involving the handling and disposition of your estate. The executor is legally authorized to administer your estate. He or she is in charge of taking control of your assets, paying off any debts, and distributing your assets to your designated beneficiaries according to the terms and conditions of your will.
You can choose anyone you want to be the executor of your will. You should specifically name this person as your executor in your will. You should also designate a backup executor, in case your chosen executor refuses, or is unable to fulfill his or her duties.
According to statistics, approximately just 30% of Americans actually have a will, despite the obvious benefit. Having a will is the only way you can truly be assured that your estate will be distributed exactly the way you desire.
Failing to have a will in place prior to your death means that administration and disposition of your estate will be taken over by the state. Every state has its own laws that direct what happens to property when someone dies intestate (without a valid will) and the property was not left in some other way (such as in a living trust). If you do not want to risk this happening, you should draw up a will.
You do not have to spend a lot of money writing a will. It is an easy and inexpensive process. For a will to be legal, the document must meet only 4 requirements:
- It must expressly state that it is your will
- It must be typewritten or computer-generated
- It must be signed and dated
- It must be witnessed by 2 or 3 witnesses. These witnesses must be people who do not stand to gain anything from the will, and are not named in the will as heirs or beneficiaries.
Although you can write a perfectly legal will on your own, it is a good idea to have a lawyer help you. This will ensure that there are no legal problems after your passing. You should keep a copy of the completed will in a secure place outside of your home, for example, with your attorney. It is not a good idea to store your will in a safety deposit box at a bank, since the contents of the box may be sealed and therefore inaccessible at the time of death. Be sure your executor knows the location of your will.
Bank Accounts and Safety Deposit Boxes
When a person dies, in most cases their bank accounts and safety deposit boxes are automatically frozen. The executor should notify the bank of the death immediately. The bank will assist the executor with the following:
- Following the procedures for releasing the funds in any account belonging to the deceased
- Setting up a new account for any funds that are received after the death
- Managing and closing existing joint accounts in a timely fashion
You will need to provide a certified copy of the Death Certificate to remove a name from a joint bank account or to access a safety deposit box that belonged to the deceased.
The executor will need to obtain a Certified Death Certificate before anything else can be done. The Death Certificate is filed in the locale (town, city, etc.) where the death occurred. The executor should consider getting several certified copies of the Death Certificate to use as needed. Most agencies require a certified copy of the Death Certificate and will not accept photocopies or scans.
Western Carolina Mortuary Service will furnish the requested certified copies of the Death Certificate as part of our service to your family.
The deceased's estate must go through a legal process known as probate. Probate transfers the legal title of property from the estate of the deceased to the beneficiaries. The probate process involves the following steps. Your attorney can assist you with this process. Basically, the executor will go before the courts and perform the following tasks:
- Identify and catalog all property owned by the deceased
- Obtain an appraisal of the property
- Pay all debts and taxes
- Prove that the will is a valid and legal document
- Distribute the property according to the terms of the will