How Can I Move On after a Loved One Dies?

Grieving has no time limit. But sometimes doing tasks can help you move through the grieving process.

There are no rules about when you should “get back to normal” or “move on” after a loved one dies. Everyone deals with grief differently. But there are many financial and legal tasks that will require your immediate attention, and sometimes dealing with menial tasks can help you move through the grieving process.

Here are some things that will need to be done:

  • Gather important information, such as the deceased’s Social Security number, birth certificate, marriage certificate, divorce decree, and military discharge papers.
  • Locate the deceased person’s original “wet-ink” Will (and Trust, if applicable).
  • Obtain at least 10 copies of the death certificate. In Florida, we have both short-form (no cause of death listed) and long-form death certificates. Generally, only life insurance companies require the long-forms in case there’s a suicide, workplace death, or something else that voids the policy. Everyone else will require a short-form due to privacy laws. So, request a long-form for each life insurance policy and lots of short-forms for everything else.
  • Inform the Social Security office about the death (if the funeral home didn’t) and file a Social Security benefits claim form to qualify for the death benefit. Surviving spouses will also want to find out what will happen to their benefits due to the death of their spouse.
  • Notify the deceased person’s supplemental Medicare insurance plan of the death of the insured (Social Security will notify Medicare and Florida Medicaid, but not any supplemental health insurance companies).
  • Find the titles and registrations for all automobiles. If there’s a loan, find the loan documents. If leased, find the lease contract.
  • Print out up-to-date statements for all bank, brokerage and retirement accounts.
  • Find all evidence of debts and their balances – loans, credit cards, mortgages, medical bills, etc.
  • Find the beneficiary forms for all insurance policies, IRAs, 401(k)s, bank accounts, annuities, and investment accounts.
  • Deposit the deceased’s original Will (if there is one) with the Probate Court in the county of the deceased person’s residence, even if no probate is expected. Make a copy first because the clerk will keep the original. In Florida, there’s generally no charge to deposit a Will.
  • File a death claim with the deceased’s life insurance company, if applicable.
  • Request, complete, and submit paperwork for any accounts that named you as a beneficiary.
  • Contact the Employer’s Benefits department about survivorship pension, health insurance, unpaid salary and life insurance benefits, if applicable.
  • Change the name on the utilities, if applicable.
  • If the deceased person was a party to an ongoing lawsuit, or the beneficiary of a probate that hasn’t yet settled, gather all the pertinent paperwork.
  • Prepare a preliminary monthly budget and income summary.
  • Contact an experienced estate planning or probate attorney to determine whether a probate and/or trust administration will be needed. While trust administration is much less onerous than probate, Florida does have some legal requirements for trustees after a person dies.

Be aware that anyone convicted of a felony – anywhere, anytime – cannot serve as a Personal Representative (known as an Executor in other states) in a probate under Florida law.

Hold off for a bit before you retitle any joint accounts into your name only  – random checks made payable to the deceased can appear for a few weeks after death as things settle out and you’ll want to be able to deposit them.

Contact your financial advisor about transferring any inherited IRAs into your name and taking out a required minimum distribution (RMD), if applicable. New beneficiaries should also be named and title for any real estate previously held jointly with the deceased should be updated (your  estate planning attorney can assist you with that).

And don’t forget about taxes. A final income tax return may need to be filed, and if the deceased person was very wealthy, you may also need to file a federal estate tax return within nine months of death.

You don’t need to go it alone. Contact an experienced estate planning/estate administration lawyer for help.

Other articles you may find interesting: 

How Family Dysfunction Can Wreck Your Estate Plan

Why is This Probate Taking So Long?

***Want to learn more about how to protect your family from the government, lawsuits, accidental disinheritance, or nursing homes? Click THIS LINK to book a seat at one of our upcoming fun and educational workshops.***

Death Quest: The Morbid Scavenger Hunt

In this video, Cindy discusses the sad, frustrating process most people have to go through after a loved one dies.

Other articles/videos you may find interesting:

Bad Things Happen to Young People, Too

What Happens When a Beneficiary Form Doesn’t Match the Will or Trust?

***Want to learn more about how to protect your family from the government, lawsuits, accidental disinheritance, or nursing homes? Click THIS LINK to book a seat at one of our upcoming fun and educational workshops.***

Co-Owning Real Estate: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

In this video, Cindy discusses how co-ownership of real estate can affect your estate plan.

Other articles/videos you may find interesting:

Estate Planning for Same Sex Couples

What Happens if I Die Without a Will?

***Want to learn more about how to protect your family from the government, lawsuits, accidental disinheritance, or nursing homes? Click THIS LINK to book a seat at one of our upcoming fun and educational workshops.***

Deciding Who to Name as Your Personal Representative

Personal Representative named in Will
Choosing the right person to be your Personal Representative named in your Will is an important decision.

If you have a Will, someone has to administer it – gather all of your assets and debts, work with lawyers and the courts, take care of your property until it can be sold or distributed, and eventually distribute it to the people you named in your Will. That person is your Personal Representative (called an Executor in some states).

Who should you name to take on this enormous burden and responsibility? Well, in Florida, the absolute minimum requirements are that the person be at least 18 years old, a Florida resident as of your date of death or a family member, and not be a convicted felon. Otherwise, they cannot be appointed.

So, who can you name? You can name a family member who lives anywhere in the U.S. (it’s possible, in theory, to have a foreign PR, but it’s extremely costly and awkward and many probate lawyers won’t handle such a probate), a friend who lives in Florida, a business associate who lives in Florida, a Florida attorney or CPA, a professional fiduciary located in Florida, or a corporate trustee (such as a Florida trust company or bank).

What characteristics should this person or entity have? They will have a legal fiduciary duty to handle your estate (your “stuff”) according to your wishes, so they should be trustworthy, honest, dependable, organized, fair, have common sense, and, if possible, live close by so they can easily control and manage your property.

Being appointed as a Personal Representative is a time-consuming and sometimes frustrating job. So the person you name should have plenty of free time as well as the health and stamina to put in lots of hours, read and understand legal documents, hire professionals, deal with family questions and conflicts, and potentially travel frequently if they don’t live close to your property.

Your Personal Representative is entitled to (taxable) compensation under Florida law – and they should take that compensation! It’s not fair for one child to bear the entire burden for several months or longer, and then end up with the same amount as her siblings who just sat back and waited for their inheritance.

In your Will, you should always name backups after your first choice – bad things happen to good people all the time. If there is no one named in your Will who is willing and able to serve when you die, someone you wouldn’t want or trust could be named by a judge who wouldn’t know any better.

A good option for people who don’t have any family members or friends they want to name – or would prefer to name someone who is completely independent – is to name a corporate trustee. They know all the rules and the process, and have no emotional skin in the game. They can be completely impartial and fair. But they cost money, so there has to be enough money in your estate to make it worthwhile for them to serve – generally a minimum of $500,000. You should talk with any trust company you’re considering now – while you’re alive. If you have less than $500,000, you’ll likely need to rely on family and friends to serve.

Other articles you may find interesting:

NFA Firearms: Why You Should Name a Florida Executor or Trustee

4 DIY Estate Planning Fails

Would you like to learn more about estate planning, elder law, asset protection planning, probate, and Medicaid planning in an informal, no-obligation setting?

To sign up for one of our free, educational workshops CLICK HERE.

NFA Firearms: Why You Should Name a Florida Executor or Trustee

In this video, Cindy discusses what actually happens when you die in Florida while owning NFA firearms, and you named an out-of state executor or trustee.

Other articles/videos you may find interesting:

Want Prison Time? Make an NFA Firearm Without ATF Approval

Gun Trusts Gone Bad

***Want to learn more about how to protect your family from the government, lawsuits, accidental disinheritance, or nursing homes? Click THIS LINK to book a seat at one of our upcoming fun and educational workshops.***

Why is This Probate Taking So Long?

There are many reasons a probate can take 9-24 months from start to finish.

After a loved one dies, her money and property must be distributed to the right people, either according to her Will or the state’s default distribution scheme (found in its “intestacy” statute). While most people want the settlement process to be done ASAP, probate can take between 9 and 24 months. Yes, you heard that right. The time delays create unnecessary stress, especially for families who need access to those accounts or property.

5 Reasons Probate Takes So Long

There are many reasons why the probate process takes so long. Here are five of the most common:
  1. Paperwork. Managing probate-required paperwork can be a monumental undertaking with structured timelines and court-imposed deadlines.
  2. Complexity. Estates with numerous or complicated accounts or property simply take longer to probate, as there are more items to be accounted for and valued.
  3. Probate court caseload. Most probate courts were dealing with high caseloads and limited staff before COVID-19, and it’s worse now.
  4. Challenges to the Will. Heirs, beneficiaries, and those who thought they’d be beneficiaries, can object to and challenge the Will’s instructions and legal requirements. While state law dictates the length of the time period during which they must object, Will challenges can add years to the probate process. Some of the most common challenges include assertions that the Will maker was:
    • Lacking testamentary capacity (i.e., lacking the legal or mental ability to make a Will)
    • Delusional
    • Subject to undue influence (wrongful pressure to do something they didn’t want to do)
    • A victim of fraud
  5. Creditor Notification. The deceased person’s creditors must be notified of the deceased person’s passing and the probating of her estate so they have time to submit any legal claims for debts. This time period also varies from state to state, but it is generally four to nine months (three months in Florida). The bottom line is that, while most state probate laws are designed to keep the process moving along in a timely manner, that’s more of a plan than a reality.

Simply Put, Avoiding Probate with a Trust Is Better

Simply put, had the deceased person created a trust to hold her accounts and property, the long, complicated probate process could have been avoided. By creating and funding a trust, those accounts and property would no longer be viewed as being owned by the deceased person and would not be subject to the supervision of the court. Their distribution would be controlled by the instructions left in the trust agreement. Administering a trust instead of a probate is usually quicker –meaning that beneficiaries receive assets more quickly, costs are reduced, and stress levels are kept to a minimum.

Take Action Now

First, if you need help settling a probate estate, we can help you move the process along and remove some of the burden so you can move on with your life. Second, we can help you make sure you never burden your loved ones the way you’ve been burdened. How? We’ll show you how to avoid probate with a trust. Give us a call today. As an added convenience to our clients, we’re able to meet via phone or video conferencing, if you prefer.

Other articles you may find interesting:

9-Step Guide for a Personal Representative

To Probate or Not to Probate?

Would you like to learn more about estate planning, elder law, asset protection planning, probate, and Medicaid planning in an informal, no-obligation setting?

Sign up for one of our free, educational workshops here.

Does Mom Have to Pay Dad’s Credit Card Debt after He Dies?

credit card debt
Consult with a probate attorney before paying a deceased person’s credit card debts.

When a family is grieving after the death of a loved one, the last thing any of them wants to deal with is unpaid debts and debt collectors.’s article asks “Is mom liable for my dead father’s credit card debt?” The answer: generally, any unpaid debts are paid from the deceased person’s estate.

In many states, family members, including the surviving spouse, typically aren’t required to pay the debts from their own assets, unless they co-signed on the account or loan. This includes credit card debt.

All the stuff that a person owns at the time of death, which includes everything from money in the bank to their possessions to debts they owe, is called an estate. When the deceased person has debt, the executor of the estate will go through the probate process.

During the probate process, all the deceased’s debts are paid off from the estate’s assets. Some assets—like retirement accounts, IRAs and life insurance proceeds—aren’t included in the probate process. As a result, these accounts may not be available to pay creditors. Other assets can be sold to pay off outstanding debts.

A relative or the estate executor will typically notify any lenders, like credit card companies, when that person passes away. The credit card company will then contact the executor about any balances due. Note: the creditor can’t add any additional fees, while the estate is being settled, and the executor SHOULD NOT arrange to make any payments without first consulting with a probate attorney.

If there’s not enough money in the estate to cover credit card debts, the card issuer may have no recourse. The executor and the heirs aren’t responsible for these debts. Unlike some debts, like a mortgage or a car loan, most credit card debt isn’t secured. Therefore, the credit card company may need to write off that debt as a loss.

You should start learning about the probate process in your state to have the best defense for dealing with creditors and debt collectors.

If you need help, talk to an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: (Jan. 15, 2020) “Is mom liable for my dead father’s credit card debt?”

Other articles you may find interesting: 

College Kids Need Estate Planning,Too

What’s a Lady Bird Deed?

***Want to learn more about how to protect your family from the government, lawsuits, accidental disinheritance, or nursing homes? Click THIS LINK to book a seat at one of our upcoming fun and educational workshops.***

9-Step Guide for a Personal Representative

In this video, Cindy discusses 9 things anyone who is drafting a Will – or anyone who is named as a Personal Representative in a Will – should know.

Other videos you may find interesting:

Durable Power of Attorney: What You Need to Know

What’s a Lady Bird Deed?

***Want to learn more about how to protect your family from the government, lawsuits, accidental disinheritance, or nursing homes? Click THIS LINK to book a seat at one of our upcoming fun and educational workshops.***

Common Myths about Your Estate When You Die

Have you heard these myths about what happens to your estate when you die in Florida?

There are many misconceptions about the law in general and about estate planning in particular. There are also many opportunities to use the law to protect those we love when it comes to helping families navigate life and the legal processes that happen after the death or disability of a loved one. The best option is to plan ahead, reports the article “I’m dead, now what? Myths about deaths in Georgia” from the Cherokee Tribune & Ledger-News. While the article addresses Georgia law, here are the top four myths about what happens when someone dies in Florida (other states may have different laws):

Myth 1. Even if I have no Will, my spouse gets everything. Maybe, maybe not. While you may want your spouse to get everything, if there’s no Will, then Florida’s laws will determine who gets what. Under Florida law, if neither you nor your spouse have any children from previous relationships, then, yes, your spouse will inherit everything. But if either of you have other children outside the marriage, then your children will inherit half of your estate and your spouse will inherit half of your estate. That might not be what you were expecting.

Having a Will allows you to choose who inherits what.

Myth 2: A Will means there’s no need for probate court. Wrong! Having a Will doesn’t mean you avoid probate court and the legal process known as probate. A Will isn’t legally effective until the nominated executor/personal representative presents your Will to the probate court and the court accepts the Will and declares it to be valid. The probate process can be costly and last nine months or longer in Florida. Going through the probate process does have other some downsides if there’s a disgruntled family member or a need for privacy: The probate process creates a public record and information can and often is obtained by family members. To avoid making your life public, you may want to consider an estate plan that includes trusts, which don’t go through the probate process and don’t become public records.

Myth 3: If I don’t have a Will, the state will take it all. It’s very rare that any state will take everything, even if there’s no Will. Florida only does that if absolutely no family members can be found, or if the person who died received Medicaid benefits while alive and left no spouse. More likely? A distant family member will be entitled to inherit. Again, the law varies by state, so check with an experienced estate planning lawyer in your state.

Myth 4: The family gets stuck with the debts. Sort of. The deceased person’s debts don’t have to be paid by a family member if they were not a joint borrower or otherwise legally obligated to pay the debt. However, the debts are paid by the deceased’s estate before anything can be distributed to the beneficiaries. Therefore, the family members will inherit less, but it’s not coming directly out of their own pockets. The debts of the deceased are to be paid by whatever assets he or she owned at the time of death. If there’s not enough in the estate, the family is not obligated to pay the debt.

What you think you know about estate planning can hurt you and your family. An easy way to prevent this is to meet with an experienced estate planning attorney and make a plan that will distribute your assets according to your wishes.

Reference: Cherokee Tribune & Ledger-News (Feb. 1, 2020) “I’m dead, now what? Myths about deaths in Georgia”

Other articles you may find interesting:

Can I Protect My Daughter’s Inheritance from Her Loser Husband?

Should I Buy Mortgage Protection Life Insurance?

***Want to learn more about how to protect your family from the government, lawsuits, accidental disinheritance, or nursing homes? Click THIS LINK to book a seat at one of our upcoming fun and educational workshops.***

To Probate or Not to Probate?

Whether you die with a Will, a trust, or neither, some sort of estate administration is almost always needed.

Everyone dies with one of three estate plans. Some die with a Last Will and Testament (Will), others die with a fully funded revocable living trust (RLT), while still others die with neither a Will nor a RLT. The purpose of this brief article is to introduce each of these three estate planning approaches – not to serve as an in-depth treatise on the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Will-Based Planning

When a loved one dies, you need to go through his or her papers as soon as possible to look for a Will. Why? This traditional estate planning legal document often contains critical instructions regarding any “final wishes” of the decedent. For example, some people include funeral and burial instructions in their Wills. Time is of the essence when it comes to those decisions.

Assuming that you’ve found the Will, the first thing you should do is read it and determine who is appointed as its executor/personal representative. If you are the executor, you need to know who the beneficiaries of the Will are, what they are to receive, and when. You also need to determine whether the Will identifies anyone else as a co-executor. For example, a parent might name her two adult children as co-executors of her Will. All co-executors must be involved in the probate process unless they formally decline the appointment. Read the Will to see if it creates any “testamentary trusts” to administer the inheritance. Parents often provide that the inheritance of a minor child shall be held in trust and distributed according to its terms, instead of being distributed outright in a lump sum.

Without delay, contact the attorney who prepared the Will. That attorney is likely the person who knows the “testamentary intent” of the decedent, along with the nature and location of all estate assets.

Proving the Will

The first responsibility of the probate court is to “prove” the Will. In other words, is the Will presented truly the “Last Will” and not the “second to the last Will”? If the judge determines that the Will presented is the “Last Will” and is otherwise legal in all technical respects, the judge will issue “letters testamentary” or “letters of administration,” giving you legal authority to act as executor on behalf of the estate. You can use this key document when dealing with the decedent’s banks, brokerage firms and insurance companies, and fulfilling the many responsibilities that come with being the executor of the estate.

Probate Administration

With a valid Will and letters of administration in hand, the duties of the executor regarding probate administration may vary from state to state, but generally the executor follows these fundamental steps:

  • Collects, protects, values and insures (if needed) the assets of the estate,
  • Files an inventory with the court listing the assets subject to probate,
  • Provides actual notice to known creditors and notice by publication to potential creditors,
  • Pays the final expenses, taxes and legitimate debts of the decedent,
  • Files appropriate state and federal tax returns for the decedent and the estate,
  • Distributes the assets according to the Will (with the approval of the judge, if needed),
  • Follows any additional specific instructions under the Will (with the approval of the judge, if needed), and
  • Closes the estate and receives formal discharge by the probate judge.
  • Note: the executor is often appointed to serve as the trustee for any “testamentary trusts” created over the inheritance. While your services as executor may end with the closing of probate, it may only be beginning, if appointed as trustee.

Revocable Trust-based Planning

If the decedent left a trust agreement, the estate will be distributed according to the terms of the trust document, with little if any involvement by the probate court. In many states, the trust agreement itself is not filed with the court unless there’s a contest or dispute. As a result, there’s no need for the court to declare whether the trust agreement is valid and appoint a trustee. This lack of probate is one of the chief advantages of a RLT-based estate plan. However, probate would still be necessary to approve of any guardian nominated to serve as the backup parent for an orphaned minor child.

In contrast to probate administration under the supervision of an impartial judge, the trustee is responsible for the complete stewardship over the trust assets and fulfilling its terms. This responsibility includes paying final expenses, taxes and legitimate debts of the decedent, managing assets, paying the debts and expenses, filing the tax returns and distributing the trust assets according to the terms of the trust agreement. As with a “testamentary trust” created under a Will, these distributions may be made in an immediate lump sum, staggered over years, or continue over multiple generations.

No Will or Trust

Every state has “intestate succession” laws governing what happens when a person dies without a valid Will or RLT. As described above, it’s even possible to have a Will declared invalid, resulting in the estate going through intestacy. One of the greatest drawbacks to “dying intestate” is the complete lack of input that the decedent has when it comes to who serves as executor and how the inheritance is distributed. For example, in many states, if the decedent was married and had minor children, then the surviving spouse doesn’t inherit the entire estate. The surviving spouse may be responsible for managing the share allotted to the children until each child reaches age 18. Upon reaching that age, the inheritance for each child must be paid over in one lump sum, even if the child has special needs or suffers from addictions.

Your life, loved ones, and estate are all unique. In turn, your estate planning should reflect your goals to protect everyone you love and everything you have.

Other articles you may find interesting:

Blended Families Need More Thoughtful Estate Plans

The Funeral Rule

***Want to learn more about how to protect your family from the government, lawsuits, accidental disinheritance, or nursing homes? Click THIS LINK to book a seat at one of our upcoming fun and educational workshops.***