Losing a parent can be one of the most difficult times of your life. It can be overwhelming, on top of the loss of a loved one, to also have to consider and handle their estate. Below is a list of steps to take after the passing of a parent to lessen the burden.

Get Help

In most instances, settling the estate of a parent is not a one-person task. It is likely you will need to consult legal and financial professionals, such as an estate attorney or a CPA who can provide advice and assist you throughout the process.

Make Notification

Before delving into funeral and estate plans, you will likely want to notify people of your parent’s passing. This task can be delegated to other family members or to family friends if need be.

You’ll also need to contact your parents’ employer if they were employed. At this point, you can discuss any benefit plans and final paycheck distribution.

Pre-existing Wishes

In the case that your parent had a will, the first step you will want to take is to determine who they appointed as personal representative (also known as an executor). Often times a parent will appoint one of their children to the role, meaning it could very well be you or one of your siblings. Other times a parent will appoint a third-party personal representative, who can maintain an objective stance during the process and help the distribution of their assets go as smoothly as possible.

Once you have determined who the personal representative is, you should then proceed to determine whether your parent had any particular plans for their funeral or their burial. These instructions may be located in a will, an instructional letter left behind by the parent, or, if all else fails, possibly with another family member. Funerals can cost upwards of $9,000, so it is important not to skip this step, as sometimes a parent will have prepaid for their burial plot or plan to spare their children the cost.

Once you have determined what, if any, funeral plans were already in place, you may proceed with the arrangements. It is at this point that you will make the final determinations on burial or cremation, call the veterans association to make arrangements if your parent served in the military, and prepare, or have a friend or relative prepare, the obituary.

After the Funeral

Once the funeral has concluded, you will begin the task of settling your parents’ estate. You’ll need to acquire multiple death certificates in order to access bank accounts, insurance policies, deal with government agencies, and do numerous other things that will require proof of death. Most funeral homes will be able to acquire these for you; however, you can get them (or order more if needed) from the vital statistics office in the state in which your parent died.

At this point, you’ll want to gather as many of your parent’s records as possible. These include the death certificate, any records your parent may have left behind, such as a will or letter explaining the preparations they might have made for this situation, bank information, and anything else that may contain information on your parent’s estate.

After the funeral is also the time you will want to meet with an estate attorney and a financial professional. An attorney may not always be necessary, but as a rule of thumb, if your parents’ estate was worth more than $75,000 a lawyer can significantly help you during the distribution of assets and probate process. If an attorney has not already been selected by your parent, the personal representative is responsible for picking one.

A CPA might also be able to help you determine whether there are any unpaid taxes on the estate and help you to file a final tax return on behalf of your parent. If your parent already employed a CPA, they will likely have all, or many, of their financial information available to them.

Probate

Probate is the legal process of carrying out the wishes in a will, or otherwise transferring your parent’s assets via Florida law. You will need to contact your local probate court to begin the proceedings (a lawyer can assist with this). In the majority of cases, an attorney is required by the courts to assist you in the probate process. The purpose of the probate court is to assure that your parents’ assets are properly distributed amongst their beneficiaries and that all of their debts are paid off.

The probate court will verify the validity of your parent’s will and ensure that their debts are paid out of their estate before distributing the rest of your parents’ assets.

It is important to note that not all estates need to go through probate. While the criterion for probate differs from state to state, in Florida; property, bank accounts, 401k accounts, insurance policies, and any other assets that have either designated beneficiaries or joint owners do not need to go through the probate courts.

Additionally, if your parent died without a will, or intestate, and has assets that were in their name only, probate is only required for the distribution of money and property.

It is important during this process to maintain a running list of bills that need to be paid and keep up with them during the probate process. These bills include mortgage, utilities, and taxes that still need to be paid during the probate process. You should also cancel any recurring payments that are no longer being used, like your parent’s cable, internet, and phone bills.

Once you begin the probate process, you will need to create an inventory of all of your parents’ assets. Assets include, but are not limited to: their home, car, jewelry, furniture, bank accounts, personal property, brokerage accounts, etc. Locating all of their assets can take a significant amount of time and occasionally requires professional help in the form of firms that specialize in this kind of asset location.

Make Institutional Notifications

A final step you need to take after the passing of a parent is notifying all of the necessary agencies, companies, and institutions.  You should notify your parent’s credit agencies in order to prevent identity theft. Most agencies will require a copy of the death certificate for verification. After notifying the credit agencies, you should contact a customer service representative at your parent’s credit card company and inform them you’re closing the account on behalf of a deceased parent. Once again, this will require a copy of the death certificate. However, in many cases you will require a court order, depending on how your parents’ accounts were arranged.

You should also notify your parent’s financial advisors and banks. Banks will also require the death certificate. Financial advisors may also need the death certificate depending on the specific type of asset being dealt with.

Finally, you will need to contact your parent’s life insurance provider, if they had one. These companies also require a death certificate as well as any other identifying information you can provide concerning your parent.


If you would like more information regarding what to do following the loss of a parent, or for a consultation regarding probate or the execution of a will or trust, please contact The Probate Law Firm. We are here to help you figure out what needs to be done when managing a parent or other family members estate.  As a reminder, the information provided on this blog article is only to be used for general informational purposes and not intended to be used as legal advice. Be sure to contact our office at (305) 456-3255.

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