Perhaps one of the most important tasks you now face is the disposition of a loved one's estate. Whether or not the deceased had a will can make a greater difference in the time and effort involved in the proper disposition. It is suggested that you obtain legal advice on the array of different matters such as the disbursement or conversion of assets, changing of property deeds and titles, the disposition of bank accounts, stocks and bonds, and the disposition of business assets.
If you do not have an attorney, now is a good time to find one. The best methods of finding an attorney are through friends and relatives or by calling your local bar association.
If your loved one had a will, it will need to be probated. Probate is the legal procedure for the orderly distribution of estates. In most cases, probating a will is a simple process. Only in the instances where the will is being contested or the deceased had numerous holdings will the action be more complex. There is usually a specific time within which a will must be probated, so it is important to check carefully.
If there is no will, the estate will be disposed of according to the state laws governing descent and distribution.
Preparation and or review of your own will is also an important consideration at this time. It is the best way to assure that your estate is handled according to your desires.
Traditionally, life insurance companies require only two forms to establish proof for a claim; (1) a statement of claim, and (2) a certified copy of a death certificate. Please remember that this is a general statement. Your insurance companies reserve the right to request further information or proof that they deem necessary.
When filing a claim form, you should have available the following information:
- The policy number(s) and the face amount.
- The full name and address of the deceased.
- His or Her occupation and the last date worked.
- His or her date and place of birth and the source of the birth information.
- Date, place, and cause of death.
- Claimant's name, age, address, Social Security Number, and date of birth.
You will want to gather all the bills together and make sure you are aware of all the credit obligations of the deceased. Many installment loans, service contracts, and credit cards accounts are covered by credit life insurance, which pays off the account balance in the event of the death of a customer.
You should contact any financial institution where the deceased had a loan, and inform them of the death. They will be able to inform you if the loan was covered by credit life, and what needs to be done to file the appropriate claim. A certified copy of the death certificate is often required to file a claim.
You will also want to contact credit card companies to notify them of the death. If the card is jointly held, find out what documentation is required to change cards into the survivor's name. Ask the credit bureau to assist you in transferring your loved one's credit into your name. They may be able to assist you in determining any outstanding obligations of the deceased.
Make a prompt request for the release from each bank in which the deceased and you held a joint account. This is necessary before you can withdraw funds from that account. A bank will usually stop payment on all checks as soon as a death notice is published. The bank must also have the account cleared by the state tax authorities.
Today there are more issues than ever before regarding "death with dignity" or "the right to die." Advances in medical and scientific techniques have found ways to keep people alive by way of machines. As a result, more and more people are concerned with issues regarding the "quality of life."
On June 25, 1990, the Supreme Court ruled in the Nancy Cruzan case that Americans do have the constitutional "right to die," and indicated that a Living Will or Durable Power of Attorney may be the best way to protect that right. Issues concerning measures to sustain life and the quality of life are very personal, and it is recommended that you discuss these issues with your family.
Today most states have Living Will statutes, specifying documents, which anyone can copy, and sign according to state law.