5 Most Important Tasks When Settling an Estate

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5 Most Important Tasks When Settling an Estate

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Settling an estate is a stressful process. You might feel overwhelmed by legal documents or confused about the next step to take. Add the fact that most estate settlements take up to six months (and some longer), and it’s easy to wonder how in the world you’ll manage to accomplish every little task.

Although there are many complicated aspects of settling an estate, the good news is that there are also professionals who can help. As the family member, executor, beneficiary, or whatever your role may be, there are only five important tasks you’ll need to manage on your own. In this blog, we’ll walk you through each one and tell you what type of estate planning professional can help you with it.

First Steps

Before you get down to the business of disbursement of assets and selling property, there are a couple of things you’ll need to get started. The first two tasks you’ll need to focus on will help you prepare for the next steps and make the rest of the process easier.

Gather Documentation

The very first thing you’ll need to do is obtain a copy of your loved one’s death certificate. You’ll need this to collect death benefits from life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and to get access to any existing bank accounts.

It’s also wise to collect clippings of obituaries or newspaper articles about the decedent’s life, as some insurance companies and financial institutions require multiple forms of proof. These articles should ideally note the date of death that matches the death certificate.

Next, you’ll need to gather any tax and financial information you have access to. This includes anything from income tax returns to a record of all investments and annuities your family member had. Look for bills from credit card companies or other unpaid debts, as well. This will help you assess what needs to be paid from the estate bank account before the decedent’s assets are disbursed to beneficiaries.

These are just a few examples of documentation you’ll need to start looking for. The more pertinent information you gather, the better you will be prepared to settle the estate.    

Meet with Your Attorney and Accountant

After you’ve gathered all the documentation you need, it’s time to meet with your estate attorney. They are in charge of the estate administration and can provide legal advice throughout the settlement process. 

If you don’t have an estate attorney, then the process will be a little different after you gather the decedent’s paperwork. First, you’ll have to determine whether or not the estate will be settled in probate court. (Usually, probate is only required if there’s no designated executor.) If there is a will, then the process is usually easy because the court will commence with whatever is stated in that legal document. If not, then the court will assign a probate officer to disburse the estate’s assets.

You will also need to meet with the estate’s accountant who will assist you with the estate taxes. They’ll be familiar with both state laws and federal estate tax rules so that you don’t have to worry about parsing through the complex world of estate tax. Your accountant will assess the estate and notify you of what you owe.

Read the Will

If your loved one left a will, then it should be at the top of the executor’s checklist to read this to the family as soon as possible. This document should include instructions on how to proceed with settling the estate (and keep you out of the probate process). Remember that this is a legally binding document and what is stated in the will must be carried out.

It’s also important to check your state laws for the time requirement for filing the will with the probate court. You must file a will with the court so it can verify the document is valid and the succession process can begin. 

The will should help you assess what items need to be disbursed and what needs to be sold. Payments such as social security benefits, insurance benefits, or benefits from retirement plans such as IRAs aren’t likely to be listed in the will. These funds are usually designated to a beneficiary through the company that holds that policy, so check with them after you read the will to start that process.

Claim Death Benefits and Notify Beneficiaries

Now that the will has been approved by the courts, you can move on to the claims process with any company that owes death benefits. As mentioned in the last section, you want to start this process as early as possible. 

To initiate a claim, you’ll need to fill out the company’s death benefits claim form and attach a copy of the death certificate. The company will process your request and mail the appropriate funds directly to the beneficiaries listed on the policy.

It’s important to notify the beneficiaries when you file the claim so they know to expect a check and from which company. This goes for items or funds inherited through the will as well. When named in the will (if they weren't present for the reading), you’ll need to notify the person of what they’ve inherited and determine how to get the funds or items to them. For some bank accounts and assets, you’ll have to arrange for an official transfer of ownership or funds to the beneficiaries.

Sell What’s Left

Dividing money and property can take lots of time, so remember to be patient throughout this process. It can be difficult to navigate the process with multiple family members involved, but  eventually, everything will be disbursed and all the death benefits will be claimed. Although the bulk of the work might seem to be over, you’re likely still left with a considerable amount of assets.

Selling what’s left of an estate might feel like an impossible task, especially if it’s just odds and ends in an old house. Working within the traditional market can take lots of leg work and require some costly clean-up and maintenance just to list a home on the market. Not to mention figuring out how to get rid of everything inside. 

Working with an auction company can solve this problem. At Weeks Auction Group, we have a team of talented real estate agents with experience selling entire estates at once. We can streamline the process for you by listing the home and everything in it at auction. Imagine having the entire burden of settling the rest of an estate lifted at the end of auction day. 

To learn more about our process and see how we can help you sell an estate, reach out to us today. We’d be happy to help!