When someone close to you dies, dealing with the legal issues left behind can be overwhelming. The purpose of this blog entry is to help make things a bit easier by giving some basic initial steps to take.
1. Determine Whether They Had A Will. Safe deposit boxes and file cabinets are good places to look. Finding the original will is important, but there may be options if the original cannot be found. Contacting their prior Guymon, OK estate planning attorney may be a good option. An estate planning attorney is not as likely to have an original will or other documents as in times past, but they may have a copy. They may also have information about their overall plan, what property they might have owned, and other key information. (If there is a trust or other estate planning documents, you need to find those as well. In that case, there may not be a formal legal estate, but there will be trust administration issues, and the basic steps in this blog post will still be applicable, whatever the estate plan left behind.)
2. Gather Important Information and Documents. Deeds to real property (houses, commercial properties, farmland, minerals, etc.) and ownership details on personal property (investment accounts, automobile titles, insurance beneficiary designations, account signature cards, etc.) are good examples. If you cannot find these, do not let that delay you too long before seeking counsel. A good attorney can help you dig up these details if necessary. Again, if they had an estate planning attorney while alive, that may be a valuable resource in the estate process. Also, if the person died as a result of an accident, medical malpractice, or other unnatural causes, it is of the highest importance to promptly discuss those issues thoroughly with a competent attorney – which is the next step.
3. Find A Good Attorney. This is especially true if you are the person named as the Personal Representative or Executor in the will. It will be up to you to comply with the law and make sure the estate is done properly and for the benefit of the persons named in the will. A good attorney will walk you through all the details. You could visit with the estate planning attorney of the deceased to see if they could help you with the estate and would be someone you could work with. However, you should ultimately use someone you trust and are comfortable working with who is experienced in probate and estate administration. If there are additional financial, injury, or other ongoing issues, the attorney will also need to address those or work with other attorneys who are strong in those areas.
Thanks to our friend and blog author, Cory Hicks of Field & Hicks PLLC, for his insight into creating an estate.