What to Do When Someone Dies - dummies

By Margaret Atkins Munro, Kathryn A. Murphy

Part of Estate & Trust Administration For Dummies Cheat Sheet

If you’re an executor, personal representative, or administrator of an estate, your job begins at the death of the person whose estate you’re administering. The following list contains tasks you need to take care of in the first days and weeks after the decedent’s death.

  • Determine the decedent’s wishes regarding arrangements such as funeral and burial.

  • Obtain copies of the death certificate.

  • Ascertain whether the decedent had a last will and other estate-planning documents and then try to find them.

  • Apply for a federal Taxpayer Identification Number for the estate, using Form SS-4. (This is like a Social Security number for the estate.)

  • Figure out the decedent’s domicile (where he or she “lived” for probate and tax purposes) and where real property (real estate) is located, because the executor may have to probate the estate in multiple jurisdictions.

  • Determine whether you need professional advisors such as an attorney, CPA, or enrolled agent.

  • If the decedent has no surviving spouse:

    • Change the locks on the decedent’s residence immediately.

    • Locate and take possession of decedent’s checkbook and credit cards and notify banks and credit card companies of the decedent’s passing.

    • Notify the decedent’s homeowner’s insurance company and automobile insurance company. Add executor, when appointed, as insured and determine whether coverage, particularly on items of unusual value, is adequate.

  • Cancel pending contracts (such as purchase and sale agreements on real estate) and rewrite as executor.

  • Marshall and safeguard the decedent’s assets by

    • Locating the safe-deposit box and inventorying its contents

    • Collecting information regarding the type, value, and manner of holding for all the decedent’s assets

  • Determine heirs at law (those who would inherit if the decedent was will-less) and beneficiaries (those who inherit in the presence of a will) of the decedent’s estate.

  • Decide whether probate of the decedent’s will (or administration of the decedent’s estate) is necessary and file the decedent’s last will with the probate court.

  • If probate is necessary:

    • Figure out whether ancillary, or supplemental, probate is also necessary (for real property in another state).

    • Decide whether temporary administration of the estate is necessary for assets that must be dealt with immediately.