By Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Few things in life are harder than losing someone you love.  Grieving is hard enough, but many times, loved ones are left to not only grieve, but also sort through and take care of the assets of the deceased.

In those sad, stressful, cloudy moments after your loved one dies, what should you do to start the process of distributing your loved one’s estate?

(1) Find Their Estate Plan

The most helpful documents someone can prepare for their family are estate planning documents.  An estate plan can include a Will, Revocable Trust, Irrevocable Trust, Durable Power of Attorney, and other documents.

Since Durable Powers of Attorney are invalid after a person dies, you will want to search for Will or Trust documents.  Look in safety deposit boxes, fireproof safes in the home, and other well-know places for safe keeping of important documents.

(2) Create an Inventory of Their  Assets

You will need to determine if you will need to file a probate.  One way to help you decide, and also help you prepare if a probate is necessary, is to create an inventory of the deceased’s assets.  Make a list of all real estate, bank accounts, stocks, bonds, automobiles, expensive furniture, expensive furs, expensive jewelry, and other notable assets. If these items are valued at more than $50,000, include real estate, and aren’t jointly owned or held in a trust, beneficiaries aren’t named, or beneficiaries are deceased, you will need to file probate.

(3) Determine Jointly Owned Assets and Assets with Beneficiaries

Any assets in this category will pass outside of probate.  Most assets that are jointly owned, held in trust, or have named beneficiaries can be transferred with a Death Certificate immediately after death.  Life insurance policies, retirement accounts, bank accounts, and stocks and bonds often have beneficiaries named.

(4) Determine the Deceased’s Creditors

You will need to look through the deceased’s mail to determine creditors.  You are not personally liable for any of the deceased’s debts, but the estate is.  So, any money that is left over from the deceased will go to paying these expenses to the extent possible.

(5) Find Real Estate Documents

You will need the Deeds of any real estate to help you determine what the deceased owned and transfer that property. The deeds will also help you determine if the property was owned jointly, or in a Trust, and does not need to go through probate, or if it will have to go through a probate procedure in your local courts.

(6) Forward all Mail

You will need to forward the deceased’s mail so you can keep track of assets and creditors.  The easiest way to do this is to forward their mail to you.

(7) File Probate

If you have identified property that was not held in Trust, owned jointly, or with beneficiaries, it is likely you will need to file probate.  Probate is a Court procedure in the County (or one of them) where property is located in the State of Oklahoma.

There are different options available for different sized estates with different waiting periods and requirements. If probate is necessary, we suggest reaching out to an attorney to learn about your options.