The death of a family member or someone else close to you is usually followed by a period of grief, confusion, and a variety of other heightened emotions. Someone, however, must handle the legal and practical implications of your loved one’s death. If you have been designated as that person, you probably do not know where to begin or exactly what needs to be done unless you have been in the same position in the past. To help you get started, a Kirkwood probate lawyer explains some common steps you likely need to take immediately following the death of a loved one.
- Notify family. If all known family members and close loved ones have yet to be notified of the decedent’s death, the first step you need to take is to make the notifications. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it is also necessary from a legal standpoint as they are likely heirs of the estate.
- Locate necessary legal documents. Finding the decedent’s original Last Will and Testament is crucial. For the purpose of probating the estate, a copy will not suffice. You need to find a copy with the decedent’s signature in ink on it. Check with the decedent’s family members, look in files or safety deposit boxes, or contact his/her estate planning attorney to find an original. In addition, look for ancillary documents such as life insurance policies, trust agreements, and funeral planning documents.
- Decide who is in charge. If the decedent left behind a Last Will and Testament, the person named in that Will as the Executor of the estate is the individual who is in charge of the probate of the estate. If the decedent died intestate, or without executing a Will prior to death, any competent adult can volunteer to be the Personal Representative (PR) of the estate and oversee the probate process. If you are the Executor, you are in charge. If the decedent died intestate, it is wise to call a meeting to discuss who will serve as the PR to avoid confusion or conflict.
- Obtain death certificate. You will need to obtain several certified copies of the decedent’s death certificate. As you will need one when you open probate, it is best to request your copies as soon as possible. Instructions for how to obtain copies can be found on the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services website.
- Conduct a preliminary inventory and secure assets. As soon as possible, create a preliminary list of all known major assets owned by the decedent and take steps to secure those assets. You will need to have a rough estimate of the size and make-up of the estate to determine what type of probate is required. Securing assets can require anything from simply closing down an account to winterizing a vacation cabin located in another state.
- Consult with an estate planning attorney. Before you get any further into the probate of the decedent’s estate you should consult with an experienced estate planning attorney. Ultimately, you will want to retain an attorney to assist you if the estate requires formal probate. Costly mistakes can be made early on, however, if you do not take the time to consult with an attorney to make sure you are following the right procedures.
- Prepare to open probate. Once you have located the decedent’s Will (or determined that none exists), obtained a certified copy of the death certificate, and you have a rough idea of the estate assets, it is time to get started with the official probate of the estate. Unless the estate qualifies for a small estate alternative to formal probate, this requires you to submit the decedent’s Will, death certificate, and a petition to open probate to the appropriate probate court in the county where the decedent was a resident at the time of death in most cases.
Contact a Kirkwood Probate Lawyer
If you have additional questions or concerns, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar, or contact an experienced probate lawyer at Amen, Gantner & Capriano, Your Estate Matters, LLC by calling (314) 966-8077 to schedule an appointment.