At the Law Office of Mitchell A. Port, we understand that there are many pressing questions that need to be answered after a loved one passes away due to the coronavirus (COVID-19). Our dedicated legal professionals have years of experience helping clients navigate all aspects of the probate process, and we possess the knowledge that you need to process a will and other important estate planning documents following the death of a loved one.
If you recently lost a loved one to COVID-19, you should consider the following:
- If the loved one passed away in the home, you may need to contact your local police station or coroner.
- While you will need to notify family and friends, you might want to have someone else contact others so you can sort out important matters during this stressful period.
- While some
decedent’sdecedents wish to donate body parts and tissues, people who passed away due to the virus are excluded from being organ, eye, and tissue donors.
- A doctor or coroner must be contacted to obtain a death certificate.
- Burial or cremation arrangements must be handled. It is important to note that COVID-19 does not need to affect the funeral, burial, or cremation wishes of the decedent. However, some changes to a traditional funeral, burial, or cremation practices are likely needed to accommodate state health mandates.
- Search for instructions the decedent might have left for funeral and burial arrangements. If the decedent belonged to a burial or memorial society, they might require special arrangements.
You will also need to handle the following matters regarding the decedent’s estate:
- Get in touch with the Social Security Administration and any other government agencies or benefit programs the decedent was paying into during their life.
- Assess the decedent’s financial affairs and review any estate planning documents, including wills, trusts, divorce documents, tax returns, life insurance policies, bank statements, vehicle titles, and unpaid bills.
- If the decent didn’t have a will and there are sufficient assets to probate, then the court will appoint an administrator, and the assets in the estate will be distributed according to state law.
- If the decent had a properly drafted will, you will need to read it to see who is named as the personal representative. The personal representative can be an individual, a group of people, one or more institutions, or a combination of the aforementioned.
- If you are named as the personal representative or successor trustee, you should make a list of the assets owned by the decedent or the trust. These assets must be administered and distributed according to the wishes of the decedent.
- If the decedent had minor children and the will names a guardian, then the guardian needs to be informed and the children need to be placed in their care. If there are minor children and no guardian is appointed, or if there is no will, then the court must appoint a guardian.
- The will must be taken to the appropriate courthouse, county or city office before it can be accepted for probate.
When it comes to probate, you can expect the following after the death of a loved one:
- Gather the deeds for any real estate owned by the decedent. If real estate is owned in more than one state, special proceedings called “ancillary administrations” will likely be needed in each state.
- If the decedent has a surviving spouse, make sure their veteran’s benefits or other “joint and survivor” benefits are collected.
- A bank account for the estate of the decedent will need to be opened for the disbursement of assets and administration expenses.
- Determine if there are insurance policies or annuities that can continue for other family members and other assets.
- Income taxes must be filed and paid for the year the decedent passed away. If there is a surviving spouse, the surviving spouse can file a joint return for the year of death.
- If the decedent controlled business interests, you need to determine if there are buy-sell agreements under which the decedent’s interests can be purchased by the business entity or other business owners.
- The decedent’s creditor needs to be paid. If the creditors are not paid and they make a claim against the estate after all of the assets are distributed, the personal representative can be held personally liable for the debt.
- If you are in charge of handling the affairs of a decedent, do not rush to make distributions to their family members or friends. Important choices need to be made concerning such distributions and, of course, they need to comply with the will, the decent’s instructions, and state law.
- If the decedent has a revocable living trust, it will become irrevocable at the time of death, if not before. A separate tax return, Form 1041(Fiduciary Income Tax Return), must be filed for income received by the estate or a trust.
Have you recently lost a loved one to COVID-19? If so, we can provide guidance for how to process their will and handle other important probate matters. Call the Law Office of Mitchell A. Port at (310) 526-3433 today to schedule your free consultation.