What Needs To Be Done After A Death?
When a family member or close friend passes away, you may have immediate questions as to what needs to be done from a legal perspective.
One of the first things to realize is that there is usually no urgency to get something done within the first week or two. The most pressing matters might involve any immediate expenses that need to be paid. Short of that, the personal issues and grieving surrounding the death of the love one can take priority.
Exactly what needs to be done legally as of the date of death will vary on the deceased person’s individual circumstances. One of the first questions is whether a “probate” will be necessary. While “probate”may sound intimidating, it is simply the process by which the court files a Will and appoints someone to act on behalf of the deceased individual, so they can access the decedent’s accounts, pay his bills, sell his property, and distribute assets out to the beneficiaries under the Will.
The person appointed is called the “personal representative”, or “executor.” If an institution requests “Letters Testamentary” or “Letters of Personal Representative,” what they want to see is the document by which the court appointed a personal representative under the probate proceeding.
Although probate involves some legal fees, court costs, and additional time, it is not nearly as onerous, slow, or expensive as some would lead you to believe. If it turns out a probate is necessary, there is no need for the family or beneficiaries to feel intimidated, and a firm like ours will be able to walk you through the process every step of the way.
Some people may have heard nightmare stories of probates that stretch on forever or that involve a great deal of distress and problems. While such events can occur, they arise when family members and beneficiaries cannot agree, there are unusual assets, or the personal representative is not doing his or her job in a timely manner.
As part of their responsibility for the estate, a personal representative will normally need to prepare the decedent’s last income tax return, and possibly an income tax return for the estate during the period of administration.
If the decedent had a large enough estate to exceed the estate tax exemption (currently $5,430,000), a 706 Estate Tax Return will need to be filed with the Federal Government. Arizona does not have its own separate estate or inheritance tax, so if an individual in Arizona has less than $5,430,000, no estate tax return will be required — unless a surviving spouse wishes to preserve the decedent’s exemption.
Either in addition to the probate, or instead of a probate, if there are assets that automatically pass to another individual at death, such as joint tenancy property or accounts, life insurance or retirement benefits with a designated beneficiary, etc., then the individuals receiving that property will need to collect it with the appropriate paperwork and a death certificate. If there is a trust involved, the assets held under that trust will need to be administered, sold, and divided as well.
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