The untimely passing of a loved one is difficult enough, let alone getting through the legal nightmare that is probate. First, the main functions of probate are to collect and manage all the assets subject to probate and to pay off any debts or taxes owed against the estate. To prepare for this administration of the estate in court you most likely will need an attorney. However, once you found that attorney, how do you prepare for that first meeting?
These quick tips below will surely give you a leg up and some confidence going into that first meeting. Most importantly, start the process of obtaining at least ten certified copies of the death certificate. Death certificates are needed through out the process and for many different reasons. Bring at least one copy to your first meeting if possible.
Next, determine if there is an existing will, or estate planning document, such as a revocable living trust. If there is a trust, typically probate can be avoided entirely. If not, however, then probate must commence and locating any existing estate plan or will can assist the process and your attorney immensely. Once located, determine who the personal representative, or executor, of the estate is likely to be. This person is usually identified in the will or estate plan. If, however, there is no person identified, notify your attorney of this fact. It is NOT necessary to contact this person if known, just be aware of the person who will legally carry most of the legal responsibilities.
Third, try to collect information on all assets and debt liability known to you. For example, it would be helpful at that first meeting to bring copies of any existing life insurance policies, retirement accounts or pensions, bank account statements, and the latest tax return. In addition, any and all real property ownership should be brought to the attorney’s attention. It is extremely important to identify all property owned by the loved one who has passed, and identify if there is an existing mortgage on the land.
Lastly, bring a list of all possible children, relatives, or family members who might be connected with or associated to the individual who just passed.
With all of these documents and information, it should make for a successful first meeting and lesson the burden of figuring out what to do from there. And remember, take the time you need to process everything and do not feel you are alone in this process. Your attorney should be there to assist.