Posts tagged "estate"

5 “Never-Do’s” For the Executor of An Estate

If you’re the Personal Representative of an estate, you will be held to an extremely high standard of ethical behavior.  As Executor, the money and other assets you now control are not yours.  They have  only been entrusted to you for safe keeping  until they can be disposed of according to the wishes of the deceased.     

Your every decision as Executor must be made with the best interest of the Estate in mind.   In legal terms, you now have a “fiduciary duty” to the estate, it’s creditors, and its beneficiaries.  A violation of that fiduciary duty can be the basis on which the beneficiaries or creditors might request that the court void your actions or remove you as Executor of the Estate .

To help protect you from even the appearance of improper handling of your fiduciary duties, here are five (5) things you, as an Executor, must NEVER do:.

1.       NEVER mix estate assets with personal assets.  Immediately establish a checking account solely for Estate funds.  All income generated from the estate should go immediately into the Estate account.  All Estate liabilities should be paid out of the Estate account. 

2.       NEVER lend money to yourself from Estate funds. You may know you will pay it back, quickly, and with interest, but such a loan is absolutely forbidden!

3.       NEVER receive payments from the Estate for serving as Executor without documenting EXACTLY what the payments are for and a clear explanation, justifying the expenditure.

4.       NEVER sell estate property to yourself.  Property within an estate should only be sold when its sale is in the best interest of the Estate.  Even then, your job is to seek the highest possible price.  It is virtually impossible to avoid a conflict of interest, if you, yourself, are the buyer.

5.       NEVER make deals as Executor of an Estate that benefit someone close to you, i.e. spouse, children, or other family members.  Under the law, such a deal is the same as one in which you are directly benefited.

Again, if you remember that your job, as Executor of the Estate, is to take good care of the assets within the Estate until you can turn them over to their new owners, all your decisions will reflect that commitment, and the “Never-Do’s”, discussed above, will not be a temptation.

For more information regarding Probate and issues related to it, email me at Shirley Bertholf,, or call 360-840-1863.

Who Should Be Notified of Death?

Who needs to know that the deceased person has passed away?  Of course, family and close friends will be made aware by grieving loved ones, but how do you know who else should be notified?

 1.       Calendar.  Check the deceased’s calendar for appointments scheduled that need to be canceled.

2.       Address Book.  Go through the deceased’s address book for possible relatives and friends in remote places who might not hear of the death without a special note or call. 

3.       Credit Card/Bank Statements.  Check the deceased’s credit card and bank statements for potential automatic payments that will need to be canceled and notice of death given.

4.       Social Security Administration (800-772-1213).  This notification must be made right away.  Social Security Checks are always paid for the month prior to receipt. If the person was receiving SS payments, the payment for the month of death must be returned, no matter which day of the month the person died.  If directly deposited, you can notify the bank to return the funds to the SSA. If received in the mail, you must return the check to local SSA office.  It’s best to deliver it in person.

5.       State Motor Vehicles Dept.  Cancel the deceased’s driver’s license or ID card to help prevent fraudulent use of his/her name.

6.       State Health Services Agency.  Was the deceased person receiving health care benefits (Medicaid) from the State?  Because federal law requires the State to seek reimbursement from the estate for the cost of the health care provided, you will want to notify the agency of the death.

7.       Credit Card Issuers.  Unless you are the surviving spouse with a joint account, cut up all credit cards and notify the issuing bank of the death (send a copy of the death certificate).  If you cannot find the credit cards or records, get a credit report.  It will reveal all sources of credit.  If you are canceling the credit card, consider asking for all or part of the annual fee to be refunded and, if there is a balance, ask that it be canceled, or at least reduced.  No annual or late fees can be added while the estate is being administered.  If you are the spouse, ask to have the account put in your name alone.

8.       Post Office.  If there is no one living at the deceased’s home, fill out a Change of Address form at the post office and have all mail forwarded to you, so you will receive all checks, statements, bills, etc.  Write “DECEASED” across the top of the Change of Address card.  You may need to provide evidence of your authority to act on behalf of the deceased person.  Any mail marked for personal delivery will probably not be forwarded, but returned to sender.  NOTE:  Purchasing a stamp, “Deceased. Return to Sender” would save having to write those words over and over on incoming solicitations and junk mail.

9.       Utilities and Other Services.  Unless there is reason to keep services operating for a period of time, you should cancel services such as phone, cell phone, cable TV, and Internet access.  Other utilities such as electricity, gas, trash collection, or water will need to be kept on until the house is sold or rented.

10.   Charities the Deceased Person Supported.  Notify political organizations, schools, charities, and other non-profits donated to during his/her life.

11.   Miscellaneous. 

a.       Cancel the deceased’s passport to avoid possible identity theft. 

b.       Notify organizations the deceased was a member of. 

c.       Notify Social Networking Sites.  Check the help centers of the social media websites to determine how to report the death of an account holder.  You may need to verify your relationship with the deceased and evidence of death when reporting.

If you have questions about this or any other Probate issue, feel free to contact Shirley Bertholf, Certified Probate Real Estate Specialist, at 360-840-1863,

Estate Executors - Records and Files to Look For

So,  you are the Executor or Administrator of the Estate of a loved one.  The Probate Process will certainly be easier if you have all the documentation you need.  What sort of documents and files should you be looking for?  We have categorized the most common items for you.

Final Arrangements.  (1) Will, (2) Funeral Arrangements, (3) Burial Plots, (4) Cremation Instructions

Assets.  (1) Bank Accounts and Statements, (2) Safety Deposit Boxes, (3) Check Books, (4) Credit Card Statements, (5)  Investment Records, (6) Brokerage Account Statements, (7) Retirement Account Statements, (8) Pension Records, (9) Tax Returns, (9) W2 Form showing most recent year’s wages, (10) Military Service Veteran’s Benefits

Liabilities.  (1) Loan Documents, (2) Promissory Notes, Mortgages, (3) Child Support Documents

Insurance.  (1) Health Insurance Policies, (2) Life Insurance Policies and premium payment records, (3) Annuity policies, (4) Home and Auto Insurance

Property.  (1) Real Estate Deeds, (2) Tax Records, (3) Registration papers for vehicles and boats

Work.  (1) Business co-ownership agreements, (2) Disability-related Documents, (3) Worker’s Compensation paperwork

Documentation.  (1) Birth certificates (of the deceased person, surviving spouse, and any minor children), Immigration and citizenship documents, (2) Prenuptial Agreement, (3) Marriage Certificate, (4) Military service records (branch, dates of service, discharge or “separation” papers, (5) Divorce Papers, (6) Social Security records

Important First Steps

What Should I Do First?

It’s difficult to put one foot in front of the other, sometimes, especially when your heart and mind is overwhelmed with sorrow and grief. 

You are the Executor/Administrator of the Estate, but believe it or not, you do not have to do everything at once.  Breathe deeply and just take things one day at a time. 

Nevertheless, having a list of things you can begin doing will help clarify the fog that hovers over your mind and heart at a time like this.

1.       Set Up a Filing System.  There will be many papers and documents to be dealt with.  You will need a way to organize them to help you avoid wasting time searching for what you need.  It will also make it easier for you to answer questions bound to come your way from beneficiaries, insurance companies, banks, etc.

2.       Order Copies of the Death Certificate.  You will need numerous copies, one for each time you claim benefits, such as VA, union, death benefits, insurance proceeds, SS benefits, etc.  The best place to get these copies is at the County vital records office. Prices vary.

3.       Find the Will (if there is one).   This is not always an easy task.  Make photocopies and then file the original will with the county probate court.  Even if you don’t believe you need to go through probate, most states require that the will be turned over to probate court within a certain number of days.  There may be a filing fee.

4.       Find Other Important Documents that may serve as will substitutes, i.e. trust documents, payable-on-death bank forms or deeds, retirement accounts, transfer-on-death titles to vehicles, RV’s etc.  Look for Joint Ownership documents and deeds, Prenuptial agreements and the like.

5.       Send Notifications of the Death.  Various people and institutions will need to be notified, i.e. Social Security Administration, state DMV, Credit Card issuers, Health Service Agencies, etc.  Check the deceased’s personal calendar and cancel upcoming appointments.

6.       Keep the Property Secure.  Personal property, real estate, vehicles all need to be kept safe until disbursed to beneficiaries or sold.  Check to make sure insurance is still in effect and adequate.

7.       Sort Through Belongings. Take still and video photos of personal property and make a list.  Don’t be too hasty sorting through the deceased’s belongings, however.  Many people, especially those who lived through the Great Depression, may have stored or hidden large sums of money in very unlikely places. 

This list is quite simplified, but may help get you started.  I you want or need more specific help, please feel free to contact your Certified Probate Real Estate Specialist, Shirley Bertholf, 360-840-1863 or