AFTER THE DEATH OF A LOVED ONE: Checklist for Administering an Estate

After losing a loved one, it can be a very confusing and emotional time and families are often at a loss as to all there is to do to get the affairs in order and where to start.  So, we have compiled a checklist to assist families through the process.  The list is not exhaustive, so if you have a situation that is not covered, please feel free to give me a call.

  1. Contact the Social Security Administration (and Veterans Administration, if applicable) to let them know of the death. A death benefit of $255 may be payable to the family.
  2. Check with the employer as to any unpaid wages or benefits, life insurance and pensions.
  3. Compile a list of assets and how they are titled, i.e. jointly held with another, held in trust, etc. and if there are any beneficiary designations. Assets in the deceased’s name alone that have no beneficiary designation will need to go through the Probate Court.
  4. Look for estate planning documents, i.e. a Last Will and Testament or a Revocable Living Trust. Send copies to beneficiaries and keep them informed of Estate matters.
  5. Compile a list of liabilities (mortgage and other debts) and ongoing expenses such as utilities. These creditors may need to be served notice if there is a probate estate.
  6. Contact companies regarding IRAs, 401ks, life insurance and annuities to submit claim forms.
  7. Get a tax ID# for the Estate from the IRS, if necessary.
  8. Set up an estate bank account and/or transfer bank accounts to the joint owner or beneficiary.
  9. File the deceased’s final income tax return. Annual income tax returns for the Estate are necessary if the Estate earns more than $600 in a one year period.
  10. Transfer titles to vehicles to beneficiaries. If no other assets are to be probated, the Secretary of State’s Office will transfer vehicles up to $60,000 in value without probate.
  11. Sell real estate or transfer to beneficiaries. Remember to keep enough money in the estate bank account to cover expenses while the property is listed for sale.
  12. Make sure you pay off the funeral expenses and all creditors before distributing to beneficiaries. If the debts exceed the value of the Estate, the beneficiaries are not responsible for the excess debt unless they have co-signed or are a joint debtor.
  13. The executor of the Estate is allowed to take a reasonable fee for his or her services, so log your hours right from the start, even if you don’t think you will take a fee. Sometimes, people change their minds once they realize all there is to do and wish they had kept records.
  14. Cancel all credit cards and tear them up. Cancel subscriptions, health and car insurance, utilities etc. that are in the deceased’s name.
  15. Don’t worry – it will come to an end!

If  you have any questions, please call Karen L. Stewart, Attorney and Counselor at (248) 735-0900. For more information please see my website,


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