Tag Archives: checklist

A Short Estate Planning Checklist

Estate planning can seem overwhelming to many people and they don’t know where to begin. While there are many decisions to be made and numerous factors that must be considered, below is a simple checklist of four items that you should look into immediately:

  • Create an estate plan. Although this can include several tasks, it is important to take the first step. Contact us and let us walk you through the process of creating a comprehensive estate plan. Even if you cannot afford to accomplish everything you want right now, your estate plan can be established in steps. We can begin with what fits within your finances, then upgrade later. If you have an existing estate plan, let us review it and update it if necessary. Many changes occur over time, with family, your financial status, and of course your age.
  • Save on taxes. You can save a significant amount of money by taking advantage of the federal gift, estate and generation-skipping transfer taxes. To learn more about how to do this, please contact us.
  • Gifting. You are allowed to give tax-free gifts each year in an amount up to $14,000 in cash or other assets to as many individuals as you want. This strategy allows you to decrease the size of your estate (which can save on estate taxes) over time, while also benefitting your beneficiaries. You should discuss this with an estate planning attorney before embarking on gifting. Giving away assets has the obvious implication that you can’t get it back, but also, there are more tax-efficient ways of gifting than simply writing a check.
  • Life insurance. You should review your life insurance policies (or look into buying one) to confirm that it meets your family’s needs and that the beneficiaries named are correct.
  • Retirement Plans. You should review the beneficiary designations on your retirement plans. Naming the right primary beneficiary and secondary beneficiary is critical to your family.

Don’t be intimidated by the estate planning process. We can help simply it for you while also ensuring that you and your family are protected.

The Astill Law Office has provided high quality legal services for over 30 years. We specialize in wills, trusts, estate planning, and asset protection. If you have any questions about creating a Trust, Will, or estate planning in general, contact The Astill Law Office at 801-438-8698.

Checklist: What to do when Someone Dies

Checklist: What To Do When Someone Dies

1. If a doctor is not present, notify a doctor or coroner in order to obtain a death certificate.
2. If the death occurs at home, you may need to contact a local police officer or coroner.
3. If the Decedent wished, a donation of body parts and tissues should be considered.
4. Notify family and friends. You may want to consider having family members contact others to save yourself some time on the phone during a stressful period.
5. Look for instructions which the Decedent may have left regarding preferences for funeral and burial arrangements.
6. Determine if the Decedent belonged to a burial or memorial society that may make special arrangements for the funeral, such as military honor guards.
7. Contact a funeral home concerning burial or cremation arrangements.
8. Complete funeral and burial arrangements.
9. Contact the Social Security Administration and any other government agencies or benefit program that may be making payments to the Decedent. (Note that the payment for the month of death will not be made by the Social Security Administration and others.)
10. Review the Decedent’s financial affairs and look for any estate planning documents, such as Wills and Trusts, along with any other relevant documents, including:
• Funeral and Burial Plans;
• Safe Deposit Agreements and keys;
• Nuptial Agreements;
• Life Insurance Policies;
• Existence of Trust;
• Pension-retirement benefits;
• Old tax returns;
• Prior Gift Tax returns;
• Marriage, birth and death certificates;
• Divorce documentation;
• Computer records regarding books of a business or personal assets;
• Bank statements, checkbooks, similar documents;
• Notes receivable;
• Titles to motor vehicles;
• Leases;
• Securities and list of securities;
• Any documentation of business ownership or business interest;
• Health Insurance, make claims for the final illness; and
• Unpaid bills.
11. If there is a Will or Trust, take it to a competent estate planning attorney to determine if probate is necessary or how to administer the estate.
12. Administering the Will – If the Will is properly drawn, it will name a Personal Representative (also known as Executor or Executrix). The Personal Representative, who can be an individual, a group of individuals or one or more institutions, or a combination of the aforementioned, will be responsible for the administration of the probate estate of the Decedent. A trust may eliminate this requirement, but depends on the diligence of the decedent in tending to their affairs.
13. If there is no Will or Trust and there are assets which need to be probated, with the help of a competent estate planning and probate attorney, the Court will appoint an administrator and the assets of the Decedent will be distributed according to state law. This situation is referred to as intestacy, where the state prepared a Will for you. All states have a set of laws relating to intestate succession (transfer of property after dying without a Will), and the states decide who gets which assets if someone dies without a Will.
14. If you are the Personal Representative or Successor Trustee of a Trust, prepare a detailed list and inventory of the assets owned by the Decedent or the Trust, so they can be administered and distributed according to the wishes of the Decedent.
15. Open a bank account for the estate of the Decedent or for the Trust. This should be done early on and all receipts and disbursements should be recorded in that bank account, in order to account properly for the assets of the Decedent and the expenses of administration.
16. Probate is a process similar to that of accounting. The Personal Representative is responsible for collecting the assets and reporting to the Court as to the amount of assets in the Estate of the Decedent. The Personal Representative then assembles the assets and, after paying debts, expenses and taxes, distributes the assets according to the wishes of the Decedent. If the Decedent left no Will, the process of administration is essentially the same, except that state law determines to whom the assets are distributed. If everything is done correctly, eventually, after the Personal Representative has accounted for and distributed the assets, the Personal Representative is discharged. If a Trust is used, the same concepts apply to administration of the trust.
17. Make an inventory of household goods, personal belongings and the like, in order that they can be accounted for and properly distributed.
18. Look for insurance policies or annuities which may continue for other family members and other assets. Contact the Insurer with respect to any current policies or annuities.
19. Try to assemble the deeds of the Decedent to see what real estate, if any, is owned by the Decedent. If real estate is owned in more than one state, special proceedings, called “ancillary administrations,” may be needed in each state.
20. Determine if the Decedent owned any securities, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc.
21. Retirement Plans, IRA accounts and similar retirement benefits involve important choices which need to be made by beneficiaries, particularly in regard to IRA accounts under IRS regulations. If there are annuities, pension and profit sharing plans and interest of that type, they may provide for joint payment to a surviving spouse or others.
22. If the Decedent controlled or was a principal person in a business, it may be necessary to check to see if there are Buy-Sell Agreements under which the interest of the Decedent would be purchased by the business entity or other business owners.
23. If, after the appointment of a Personal Representative, a bank account or safe deposit box is found, then the assets in the bank account or safe deposit box need to be distributed according to the wishes of the Decedent.
24. If the Decedent was indebted to anyone, then the creditor needs to be paid. If the creditors are not paid and they make a claim against the estate after all of the assets are distributed, the Personal Representative may be in trouble and held personally liable for the debt. If there are insufficient assets to pay creditors, you need the assistance of an attorney to determine how to proceed.
25. As part of the probate process, all family members within a certain degree of kinship must be contacted, whether or not they receive assets from the Estate of the Decedent.
26. In handling the affairs of a Decedent, do not be quick to make distributions to family members or friends of the Decedent. Important choices need to be made concerning such distributions and, of course, they need to be in compliance with the Will, Trust or other instructions left by the Decedent, not to mention any applicable tax laws.
27. The income taxes of the Decedent for the year of death need to be filed, and any tax due must be paid. If there is a surviving spouse, the surviving spouse can file a joint return with the Decedent for the year of death.
28. If there is a Trust, particularly a Revocable Living Trust, it will become irrevocable at the time of death, if not before. A separate tax return, Form 1041, Fiduciary Income Tax Return, needs to be filed for the Trust or the Estate of the Decedent if income is received by the Estate or a Trust.
29. If there are minor children and the Will provides for a guardian, then the guardian needs to be informed and the children need to be placed in the care of the guardian. If there are minor children and no guardian is appointed, or if there is no Will, then the Court must appoint a guardian.
30. If there is real estate or other property that is insured, the Personal Representative should make sure that the insurance policies on the properties of the Decedent are maintained.
31. Be deliberate and do not be hasty with decisions or distributions. The death of someone, particularly a family member or friend, is stressful and often if there are children of the Decedent around during the course of the final illness, there may be disputes regarding the treatment or other problems related to declining physical or mental abilities of the parent. Stated differently, it is a time of frazzled nerves and irritable people, so be very careful not to create schisms which can last for a very long time.
33. Watch out for people who prey upon families of Decedents. There are people who look for death notices and make unfounded claims against the Decedent. Some may also attempt to burglarize the home during the funeral service. Be cautious about such matters; have someone stay at the home during the funeral service and do not easily accept the claims of unknown individuals that lack documentation. There are also unscrupulous “experts” who will tell you that they can help you administer the estate. Talk to a competent estate planning attorney before making any decisions.
34. If there is a surviving spouse, make sure veterans benefits or other “joint and survivor” benefits are collected by the surviving spouse.
35. If you are a surviving spouse, don’t make any major changes in your life, such as place of residence, re-marriage or anything else for at least a year unless it’s absolutely necessary. See the assistance of a competent estate planning attorney to review the Decedent’s affairs and advise you on your own estate plan going forward.

36. Remember that any power of attorney you held for the Decedent is now revoked.

Upon the Death of a Loved One


Immediate Things:

  1. Secure the house.
  2. Take care of pets.
  3. Forward mail.
  4. Shut off or curtail use of utilities (or not, depending on circumstances, i.e., if you have to keep the heat on, water the lawn, etc.)
  5. Clean out the refrigerator.
  6. Stop the newspaper.
  7. Check with a friendly neighbor to keep you apprised if there is any activity at the house.
  8. Tell the Landlord if the residence is a rental.

Longer Term:

Previously we published a lenthy checklist. Look at our website or Facebook page for a copy of this checklist. The Checklist is not exhaustive (though we think it is pretty thorough), and not every item will be applicable in every case. Sometimes you may need to make adjustments — such as when your family member had a living trust, and no probate proceeding will be necessary, or if you have been responsible for managing their bill-paying for several years before the death. Still, we think it will help you organize the papers, questions and information you need to properly take care of the legal and financial issues that will arise.

A couple more caveats:

  • Please remember that we live and practice in Utah. This checklist may not be accurate, or as useful, if you live somewhere else, or your family member died somewhere else.
  • Several items on our checklist encourage you to collect information of various kinds. In most cases, that’s so that your visit to our offices will be more productive. Sometimes it is to help you answer questions from heirs, creditors or others as you get more deeply into administering your loved one’s estate. If you do collect forms, mailings, etc., keep them in a central place for several years after you have concluded the estate administration.
  • If you are the successor Trustee or Personal Representative, where we indicate that you should keep track of your time and expenditures, we really mean that you should — and from the very beginning of your work. Even if you have no intention of charging a fee, we strongly recommend that you keep track.
  • If you are not the person who will be in charge of the decedent’s estate, that does not prevent you from printing out the checklist, monitoring progress by the person who is in charge, and figuring out how you can be helpful.

Common Questions:

1. How quickly do you need to get to the lawyer’s office to review what needs to be done? Usually it is not the most pressing issue, but you should expect to make an appointment within about two to four weeks. If you are the surviving spouse, it probably can wait longer. If you are in town for a short time you might well want to meet right away, at least briefly. But here’s another reality: when you call, you may be looking at a two-week wait before an appointment. That gives us time to schedule you, and to get a questionnaire out to you to help with the collection of information. Usually nothing can be done for a week or two anyway. So don’t wait two weeks to call for an appointment, and then expect it to be immediate. If there are pressing needs, we make time at our office as necessary.

2. Do you need to see the lawyer who prepared the will or trust? Not necessarily. It may be more comfortable and efficient, and the lawyer might have even kept the original documents (we sometimes do that for clients). For example, we maintain detailed electronic files of notes and documents for our clients and most have become good friends by the time they pass away. This helps because we can be up to speed quickly and provide a lot of assistance. Not every firm does this. But there is no compelling need to return to the decedent’s lawyer. It probably does make sense (in most cases) to meet with a lawyer in the community where your family member lived and died.

3. How long will the process take, and how much will the lawyer charge? It’s really impossible to generalize in any useful way. You might well be surprised at how little it costs. On the other hand, we regularly see family members who think there will be no need for a probate or any costly legal proceedings, only to find out that something was wrong in the estate setup, or something got changed or overlooked.

4. What are some of the more important points in our checklist? Here are a few we’d like to highlight:

  • Assembling a list of bank accounts, annuities, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, brokerage accounts and real estate will speed the process up immeasurably. It will likely also make it much easier for the lawyer to realistically estimate the cost and time to get the probate (or trust) administration completed. Same for creditors.
  • The funeral home will help you determine how many death certificates you will need, and how to get them ordered. You might not have visited with us yet, but here’s a practical reality: if you order them through the funeral home, you will get them faster and more cheaply. If we have to get them later it will be time consuming and more expensive. So when you’re figuring out how many you need, estimate high (at least 5 copies and depending on the estate, we sometimes recommend 10 copies).
  • At some point we’re going to need names and addresses for all the heirs and beneficiaries. For some we will also need dates of birth and even Social Security numbers. You can speed the process up if you start collecting that information.
  • Forwarding the mail is critical. It needs to get done, and it is often the easiest way to get information about assets and bills.

5. One last point we want to make: if you had a power of attorney for the decedent, it is no longer valid. While a “durable” power of attorney survives even if the signer becomes incapacitated, no power of attorney survives the signer’s death. Do not sign checks, make credit card charges, or do anything else using the power of attorney.

Call us to discuss what needs to be done next. We are always very sorry to hear of someone’s loss. We are here to help.