Representation With Integrity

» Probate

What should I do when a family member dies?

1. Preserve all assets of the Decedent until after the funeral.

2. Look for instructions that the Decedent may have left regarding preferences for funeral and burial arrangements. Determine whether the Decedent had any prepaid funeral contracts or if any special arrangements for the funeral are desired, such as military honor guard.

3. Contact a funeral home concerning burial or cremation arrangements.

4. While making the funeral arrangements, obtain certified copies of the death certificate. The number of certified copies you will need depends on the type of assets and/or number of accounts held by the decedent. Typically, ten certified copies will be sufficient, but this should be determined on a case by case basis. The cost of obtaining additional certified copies at a later time is significantly more than obtaining them initially.

5. After the funeral, conduct a complete review the Decedent’s financial documents and other important records. Particularly, look for the following:

  • Any estate planning documents, such as Wills and Trusts
  • Deeds to real property such as land, condos, or homes
  • Titles to personal property such as cars, trucks, or trailers
  • Safe deposit box agreement or keys
  • Social Security benefits and any other government agencies or benefit program that may be making payments to the Decedent. These payments need to be terminated promptly so that no funds have to be returned to the agency.
  • Nuptial Agreements
  • Life Insurance Policies
  • Pension-retirement benefits
  • Military or veteran’s benefits
  • Recent tax returns, including income tax, business tax, and/or 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
  • Promissory notes payable or receivable
  • Lease agreements
  • Stocks, bonds, mutual funds, or other investment account documents
  • Any documentation of business ownership or business interest
  • Health Insurance documents
  • Expenses related to final illness
  • Any unpaid bills

6. After the funeral, contact an attorney to begin the administration of the decedent’s estate. You should be prepared to discuss all of the items listed above with the attorney. The attorney will help you determine what type of estate should be opened, if any. Beginning the estate administration properly can save a tremendous amount of time and money, as once an estate is opened, it cannot be converted to a different type of estate, but must be administered completely.


How long does probate take?

The average estate completes the probate process in nine months. The amount and complexity of assets, the amount of prior planning, and whether there are contested issues can prolong the probate process.

How much does probate cost?

This depends and varies greatly based upon the size of an estate, the nature of the assets at issue, and the amount of prior planning. A simple estate can be probated for approximately $2,500. If the will is invalid, if there are contested issues, if there is out of state real estate, or if there are assets which are difficult to transfer, the costs can be much higher.

Practice Areas

• Business Law
• Real Estate Law
• Probate Law
• Wills & Trusts
• Immigration Law
• Family Law

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