Saturday, September 08, 2012

Probate as a learning process

So how does this probate thing work?

Basically, when someone dies, we have to figure out what to do with their estate - the things that are legally theirs, including both assets and debts. 

Someone needs to do this work. In our case, I'm doing it, since Michael wanted me to take care of his finances. I'm getting a lot of help from Christina and Mom, and the rest of the support network, but there's a lot to do. 

First is getting the estate into probate. We're fortunate in that since Michael's assets were not significant, we can do "informal" probate. This means getting someone (me) named as Personal Representative for the estate. To do that, the primary heirs (Mom & Dad, since Michael was not married and had no children) needed to both renounce their claims to the estate and nominate me as Personal Rep. 

A note on "renouncing claims" - someone who does this is not giving up the ability to receive things from the estate, they're just declaring that it's okay if someone else (the Personal Rep) makes the decisions. 

I also have to petition the court to be named the Personal Rep. This petition needs to include an inventory of the assets of the estate. If there's too much money, or complex property stuff, then you may need to go into formal probate. That looks like it sucks; there are a lot of forms. 

Then we wait for the court to process all of this. If the petition is granted (and it was), then the court can issue "Testamentary Letters" to let asset-holders know that the Personal Rep is indeed the Personal Rep and has standing to do things like get access to bank accounts and safe deposit boxes. 

We also need to post a notice of Michael's death, to let any potential creditors know that they have a limited time (4 months from the date of my petition being granted) to make claims against his estate. We did this already. 

I opened an estate account as well, to make keeping track of all this easier. And I hired a lawyer (my friend John Fossum, who helped us with the Power of Attorney in Michael's final days). 

I got an Tax ID number for the estate; this will be needed for the final tax return. 

The next step (which I'm working on now) is to get letters out to the companies that have Michael's assets (like his bank), asking them to transfer the funds to the estate account. I haven't found a good template for that in an hour or so of Google searching, so I'm making that up. Once I get a form that works (that is, one that results in the bank just transferring funds without calling me for clarifications), I'll post it online. 

- Kevin


TootsNYC said...

And it's way easier if there's a will that names who will be executor, etc.

Best of luck, Kevin!

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