Practical Tips for Handling a Loved One’s Estate after They Have Passed

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It is not easy to deal with the loss of a loved person. It’s often the type of grief that cuts deep and sticks around for a long time. It doesn’t disappear in a sense. However, it becomes easier to manage. And while we typically acknowledge five stages of grief, there is a messy, stressful, sixth stage we don’t often talk about: estate planning. 

While it will never be easy, there are ways to make handling your loved ones’ estates less exhausting. We contacted several financial and legal experts—and even our company’s CEO, Kasey Grelle, who has personally gone through this—to get their sound advice.

Handling a deceased loved one’s estate would be daunting on a good day. It can be difficult to manage the estate of a loved one who has died, especially when emotions are strong and brains are hazy. Estate planning can feel like the most difficult part of mourning, as it involves managing taxes, assets, family dynamics, and other details. 

RELATED: ‘What I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me Before My Parent Died’—Real Advice From Real People

1. Prioritize Finding A Funeral Home

There are mountains of paperwork, bills, grief, and general confusion that come with the death. You won’t be able to tackle them all in one fell swoop. Attorney Richard RicciardiIt is important to prioritize your priorities. This means you have to deal with the decedent’s body first.

Purchase several Death Certificates

“A funeral home should be the priority,” Ricciardi says. “The funeral home will not only provide care for the body but will also report the death [to Social Security] so that death certificates can be issued. You should order several death certificates [around five, plus a high-quality scan], both with and without cause of death. Those will be needed to process certain asset transfers.”

Decline Upcharges

Additionally, Financial social worker certifiedRachel Duncan warns against funeral home surcharges “Don’t get upsold about urns, plaques—there are huge markups. If cremating, a funeral home will send the ashes in a discreet receptacle. Don’t hurry. Shop on Etsy for something handmade at an affordable price when you’re ready.”

Documentation on Travel

Duncan suggests that you obtain a certificate from your funeral home allowing you to take the remains with you to a foreign country if your loved one wishes for them to be scattered there.

2. Engage financial and other professionals

Family Lawyer

Professional assistance is recommended whenever possible, particularly regarding legal aspects of an estate. “You need to find a quarterback to run point on the estate closing process,”Kasey Grelle speaks from personal experience. “I’d recommend reaching out to a family lawyer or estate planning attorney to help make sure all the boxes are checked.”

Tax Preparer

A tax preparer can also be of great help. “A dead person still has to submit taxes for the year they died,”Duncan explains. “We paid a preparer and took the fee out of my mother’s remaining assets.”

Professional Organiser

“Don’t expect your parents to deal with their clutter before they die,”Duncan “Some do a death cleaning, but most don’t. In [my mother’s] generation, you kept anything of value. It wasn’t worth fighting to get her to declutter while she was alive.”

“But it was money well spent to hire a professional organizer to help us go through things afterward (and support me in the decision fatigue),”Duncan continues. “Professional organizers can keep peace and sanity after death.”

3. Family Dynamics: Head-On

Patrick Simasko is an attorney and financial advisor. Simasko LawYou can find advice close to your home in the following: “Remember, the only thing [your loved one] would want is for their children to not fight. They would rather burn everything to the ground than to know that their kids are fighting over their estate.”

Communicate

“Keep all family members informed and updated on decisions. Often, if the person dealing with the estate isn’t responsive, other family members jump to the conclusion that they’re stealing all the money.”

Be Patient

Simasko on the other side, however, states, “other children involved need to realize that it is not a democracy. The one child is appointed the executor or trustee. It is their job to secure the estate, pay creditors, and then distribute the balance in accordance with the parent’s documents. The other children do not have the right to just walk into the house and start taking things out.”

RELATED:Top Tips for Communicating with a Defensive Person and How to Actually Solve the Problem

4. Be reasonable with your emotions

It can be tempting to ignore your emotions when you are facing such a huge logistical headache. When you can, lean on your friends. And when thinking of her own experience, Grelle remembers the importance of giving herself ample grace while she grieved—including letting go AndWhen necessary, keep going.

Skip the Estate Sale

“We had an estate sale to sell all [my parents’] things in my childhood home, and I didn’t realize how emotional that would be,”She recalls. “Someone gave me the advice not to go to the estate sale myself, as it would be too emotional, and I think that’s sound advice.”

Keep only the most meaningful items

Still, Grelle is glad she didn’t rush into getting rid of Everywherething. “I remember one of my mom’s friends telling me to save some of her fancy party clothes for myself and my kids, even though they were seriously out of style. I’m so glad I did because now, every time I see them in my closet, it brings back that feeling of love and comfort from my mom. It’s even more fun to watch my daughter play dress-up in them.”

5. Get started planning now

Death is a strong reminder of our mortality and forces us to face it. Handling the estate of a loved one is a stark reminder of (and honestly, a helpful how-to for) the work we’ll have to do to sort our own affairs.

Face Uncertainty Head on

For Grelle, dealing with her parents’ estate “made me sit down and create the estate plan I had been putting off. It also made me think through having hard conversations with my loved ones about death and our wishes so that there would not be any added stress or uncertainty as we all inevitably navigate that chapter of our lives.”

Avoid Probate (Now & in the Future).

Avoid probate—a process that involves validating a will, or deciding what to do with an estate when there’s no will—by electing a “payable-on-death”POD beneficiary in the case of bank accounts that are not applicable. David Reischer, Esq.

“Upon the death of the account holder, the named beneficiary can claim the money by presenting the death certificate and valid ID. The executor of the estate is allowed to use the funds in the account to pay any of the estate’s creditors and then distribute any available funds in accordance with the declarations in a valid will or via local intestacy laws.”

Death is a painful, confusing, and messy path to navigate—but it’s not impossible. Allow yourself to grieve, and get support as often as you can. This is a natural stage of life that, eventually, we’ll all face. Learning how to prepare can make the waters a little smoother, and when you’re in the throes of an emotional superstorm, that can make all the difference.

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