Estate Planning: How to Avoid Playing Estate Detective

When a relative passes away and leaves an estate behind, meticulous planning on the part of the family is a must. Below are some resources to help you, a friend, or family member be prepared for managing someone’s estate without having to play ‘detective’.

Use Spreadsheets

Many people create spreadsheets documenting an estate’s assets and liabilities. Regardless of whether the relative had a will or not, spreadsheets help minimize the family’s need to play detective. Additionally, they can help ensure certain items, including paid-up life insurance policies, don’t fall through the cracks.

Creditors of the Estate

Another smart idea is informing the estate’s creditors what has happened while you wait for legal standing to oversee the estate and its assets. Most creditors are patient and understanding of the process. Also, avoid using your own money to pay off an estate’s debts, because it can be difficult to get legal permission to pay yourself back.

Assets and Estate Taxes

Heirs who wish to avoid taxes have nine months to refuse an inheritance and pass it on to their children instead. Those who choose that route must look at what the estate holder intended and take any relevant state laws into account. For example, disclaimed assets might have to pass to an heir’s siblings instead. The only way to save on estate taxes is with proper estate planning while the person making the will is still alive.

Questions to Consider

Here are some things to consider: Where did the deceased hold bank or checking accounts? Did they have a car loan or lease? Did they have annuities, life insurance, or other assets? Is there an outstanding mortgage? Unless a home is held within a trust, it’s easy to do an online title search to establish property ownership.

Families should review all of the mail, old and new, of recently lost members. You can uncover things people have forgotten, including automatically renewed memberships or stock certificates.

Transitioning to a digital medium is also smart. File-sharing apps like Dropbox can be helpful to organize documents. Additionally, consider writing a letter or making a video to keep passwords and other financial information.

While estate planning has many technical aspects (drafting wills, selecting beneficiaries and life insurance), the real foundation for proper planning is working with estate planning professionals like those at Cohen & Burnett!

Estate Planning with the Experts: Cohen & Burnett

Cohen & Burnett is an Estate Planning and Estate Administration Law Firm that has served the Washington DC area for over 25 years. For more information on our services, please visit our homepage today!



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