What Happens When You Die: The Legal & Practical Realities
“What happens when You die?”
Not from a religious or philosophical standpoint, but a practical one.
What happens next?
What legal steps to r heirs have to go through?
What happens to the bills?
Will my family need an attorney to handle the paperwork?
The answer to that first, most important question is that there is a series of events triggered automatically that don’t need to worry about. And there are other things that should actively plan for in order to preserve r legacy and make r loved-ones new life without as good as it can be, as quickly as possible.
The Legal Fallout of Dying and What Happens Next
Those affairs include distributing your assets like:
- Bank accounts
- Cars and Trucks
- Real estate
- Retirement Accounts
- Jewelry, mementos, etc
Starting at Day 1 After Death
1. Confirming the Death:
The process begins with confirming the death of the individual (that’s you in this scenario).
If you pass in a hospital or nursing home this will be done as a matter of course. The same goes for hospice or at-home care of any kind.
But if ’re under the care of r family only, then they should be educated on what to do immediately after your passing.
Regardless, a medical professional will issue a death certificate, which is an essential document for various legal and administrative purposes.
[your heirs will want to order 3-5 copies of this document for use later}
2. Locating the Will or Trust:
The next crucial step is to locate the your will or trust document. [Read our Will and Trust FAQ]
If you have a will in place the original will document must be found. This document might be kept with the r important papers, in a safe or safe deposit box, or with your attorney.
Of course, cannot be the only one that knows where it’s kept – make sure the right people do know and have appropriate access.
For trusts, the trustee (the person or entity in charge of the trust) should have access to the trust document. The trustee is usually named in the trust document, and they are responsible for administering the trust according to the r instructions.
3. Notifying the Executor or Trustee:
If you have a Will, the next step is to notify the person named as the executor in the will.
The executor is the individual that you choose to carry out your instructions and handle the estate’s affairs.
In the case of a trust, the trustee should be notified.
4. Securing and Managing Assets:
Once the executor or trustee has been informed, their primary responsibility is to secure your assets.
This includes freezing bank accounts and ensuring that physical assets, such as property or valuables, are protected from loss or damage.
This will be significantly easier if they have physical access such as keys, combinations and log-ins.
5. Probate (for Wills):
When you’ve chosen to maintain your legacy by using a Will, the next step is Probate.
Probate is a legal procedure used to validate the will and oversee its execution. The court’s primary role is to ensure that your debts, taxes, and other financial obligations are paid from your estate before assets are distributed to beneficiaries.
The probate process typically involves several key steps:
- Validation of the Will: The court reviews the will to confirm its authenticity and that it complies with legal requirements.
- Appointment of Executor: If the court approves the will and there are no disputes, the executor named in the will is officially appointed by the court.
- Notifying Creditors and Beneficiaries: The executor must notify creditors of the your passing and give beneficiaries notice of their inheritance.
- Debts and Taxes: The executor is responsible for settling your outstanding debts, such as loans, credit card balances, and medical bills. Estate taxes, if applicable, are also paid from the estate.
- Asset Distribution: After debts and taxes are resolved, the remaining assets are distributed to the beneficiaries as specified in the will.
6. Settling Debts and Taxes:
Again, before your legacy is delivered down the line, the executor or trustee must ensure that debts and taxes are settled.
Debts can include personal loans, mortgages, credit card balances, and other financial liabilities.
Estate taxes, which are based on the total value of the estate, must also be addressed.
The estate tax laws can vary by jurisdiction, so it’s essential to consult with a professional to understand the specific requirements in your area.
7. Distributing Assets:
After all debts, taxes, and other financial obligations are settled, the executor or trustee proceeds to distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries as outlined in the will or trust document.
This involves transferring ownership of specific assets, such as real estate, bank accounts, investments, and personal belongings, to the intended recipients.
It’s important to note that if have specific conditions or instructions in your will or trust, such as distributing assets to minors or in stages, the executor or trustee must follow these guidelines.
For example, if you want your child to receive their inheritance in stages (e.g., at age 25, 30, and 35), the executor or trustee will manage the assets accordingly.
8. Notifying Beneficiaries:
The executor or trustee is responsible for notifying the beneficiaries about their inheritance.
Beneficiaries should receive details about the assets they will inherit, the timing of the distribution, and any other relevant information.
Open and transparent communication is essential during this process, as it can help prevent misunderstandings and conflicts among beneficiaries. And so can your preplanning that makes it perfectly clear what your wishes are.
9. Filing Final Tax Returns:
The executor or trustee must file your final income tax return.
This includes reporting any income you earned up to the date of your death.
Additionally, if the estate is subject to estate taxes, the executor or trustee may need to file an estate tax return.
Note: Estate tax laws vary by jurisdiction, and the threshold for taxable estates can change over time. Professional guidance is often necessary to navigate the tax requirements accurately.
10. Closing the Estate:
Once all the necessary steps are completed, the executor or trustee can request that the court close your estate.
This formalizes the completion of the process. The court’s approval and closure of the estate mark the end of the legal administration of your affairs.
Trust Administration (for Trusts)
There are some important differences if you have a living Trust like the Freedom Plan vs. a standard Will. That’s because a Trust is specifically designed to avoid the probate process and spare your heirs the legal hassles.
Read more about trust administration here.