June 2002 "Scavenger Hunts"
PLANNING FOR WEALTH AND SECURITY
By Elder Lawyers Jennifer and Jeff Hawkins.
Last month this article discussed ways to organize your personal and financial information to assist your loved ones in administering your estate after your death. But what if the shoe is on the other foot? What if YOU are the loved one trying to organize a person’s affairs after that person dies?
Administering a person’s estate is somewhat like a scavenger hunt. Often, you don’t know exactly what you are looking for or exactly where to find it. If you are called upon to administer someone’s estate, see an attorney. It could be that very little needs to be done as a result of the person’s death. On the other hand, an estate may need to be opened, a last will and testament probated, or federal estate taxes and state inheritance taxes paid.
Let’s say that “Bob” dies suddenly leaving no indication about his assets or financial affairs. As the person who is going to administer his estate, your first order of business is to pay tribute to Bob and his family. Go to the funeral. Spend time grieving with the family. Many people are under the impression that if Bob dies in the morning, they must see an attorney before the day ends. There is generally nothing in estate administration that can’t wait a for a few days or even a week or so after Bob dies. Take time to take an emotional breath.
The next issue is whether Bob left a “Will.” Bob could have written a will 50 years ago, or 10 minutes before he passed away. The critical question is: Where is it? Here is where the scavenger hunt begins. It could simply be in Bob’s house somewhere. Look through his house. It could be in a drawer, a safe, or any other little “hiding place” It may also be in Bob’s safety deposit box at a bank. Did Bob have an attorney? An accountant? A pastor? A business partner? These people may have information about the existence or whereabouts of Bob’s Will. (As a side note: you are not required to use the attorney who prepared the will to help you administer the estate. You are free to use the attorney of your choosing.)
Once you have located the will, make a list of the beneficiaries of the will. You will need their current addresses (including county), telephone numbers, social security numbers, and dates of birth. Did Bob have a spouse or children, whom he left out of the will? You’ll need the same information for those people too, in case they are entitled to any court notices. If Bob dies without leaving a will, make a list of his closest relatives, living and dead. This may include spouse, children (natural and adopted), grandchildren, brothers, sisters, parents, and in some cases, nieces and nephews. Many people find it helpful to chart Bob’s “family tree.” After your attorney helps you determine the beneficiaries of Bob’s estate under Indiana law, you can collect the relevant information for each of those beneficiaries.
Next, you should identify all of Bob’s assets. This includes anything in which he had an interest, including jointly held assets. Some of Bob’s assets may be obvious: his home, his car, or the 10 carat diamond ring he always wore on his pinky. But further scavenger hunting may be needed to reveal bank accounts, stock ownership, life insurance policies, cash or personal property Bob kept hidden in his home, or evidence of loans Bob may have made to other people.
Many of us owe money. You will need to find out if Bob had any debts, and make a list of all creditors, including addresses and phone numbers. This information may appear in Bob’s mail for a month or two, in the form of phone, credit card and utility bills. Bob’s creditors will be sent a Notice of Administration by the County Clerk if Bob’s estate is opened in the County’s Circuit Court.
Finally, Did Bob give gifts to anyone within one year of his death? This information could effect the amount of federal estate taxes or Indiana inheritance taxes due.
Estate administration can seem like a daunting task. However, with these few starting points and the help of a skilled attorney, your scavenger hunt can go smoothly.
THIS ARTICLE IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE. CONSULT AN ATTORNEY DIRECTLY BEFORE RELYING UPON THIS ARTICLE OR CHANGING AN ESTATE PLAN.
© HAWKINS & HAWKINS LLC 2002. All rights reserved. Published with permission. Previous editions of this column are archived on the Internet at www.hawkinslaw.com.