The death of a loved one can bring a great deal of stress and confusion into the survivor’s life. What is to be done with the home, furnishings, financial accounts and pets? Who is responsible and how does it get done?
When someone dies any property owned must be transferred to a new owner. This transfer takes a variety of forms and which form depends in part on what the deceased owned. Some property can be transferred with beneficiary statements. While others require some legal step for the transfer to be complete.
When determining what proceedings are required the first question to ask is “Did the deceased have a will?”. A will acts as the instruction manual for how the property owned at death should be transferred. If there is no will, then the probate code provides the instruction manual.
The inquiry does not end here but returns to what type of property was owned. If they own real estate, vehicles or other titled property, a legal proceeding will be required. This may require a formal probate proceeding in the court or just an affidavit. A probate lawyer can provide the necessary guidance as to which steps are required.
If they had financial or retirement accounts then beneficiary statements may be adequate. Certain assets can be transferred with beneficiary statements and pass outside of the instructions of the will or the probate code. Financial accounts are the most common asset to transfer this way. When anyone opens a checking account, brokerage account, or IRA a beneficiary statement is completed directing that institution to pay the balance to a specific individual upon proof of death. 401ks and other retirement plans also require a beneficiary statement and can pass outside of the probate process.
To make the probate process as simple and smooth as possible for those you leave behind create an estate plan. Review your will and powers of attorney periodically to ensure they still reflect your wishes. Consult your financial institutions to check your beneficiary statements from time to time to ensure they still reflect your wishes.