When someone close to us dies, it is a time of grief, confusion, and change. As we struggle through our grief, we go through the haze of the funeral and burial. Then, it is tempting to just bury our heads in the sands of grief. However, things must be done to handle the deceased’s affairs as they wanted them handled. Long delays can jeopardize their wishes.
First, there are significant deadlines from a tax perspective. If the deceased had enough in assets to have a taxable estate, which varies from state to state, a return must be filed within nine months of death.
Second, if the assets generate income, such as interest or dividends, then the estate or trust may have to file an income tax return of its own. If this return is not filed, interest and penalties could apply.
Third, if a will is not probated within a time proscribed by law, it becomes very difficult to transfer title to assets remaining in the decedent’s name. The court procedure becomes more complex, and, hence, more expensive.
Fourth, notice of the decedent’s death cuts short creditors’ opportunity to make a claim against the assets of the decedent. So, creditors who might have been cut short in the first year by a notice would still be able to make a claim against the assets of the decedent long after they otherwise would have been barred.
Fifth, assets in the decedent’s name cannot be transferred, mortgaged, or otherwise dealt with in the absence of probating the will. You may be thinking: “Who cares? I don’t want to sell it anyway.” Perhaps unexpected expenses arise and you would need to sell or mortgage the property. Years down the road, the process will be much more cumbersome and will delay the sale of the property, potentially causing a loss in value. The more volatile an asset, the more important a timely resolution.
Sixth, the executor or trustee has a fiduciary duty to resolve matters in a timely matter. This means that if they do not resolve matters in a timely manner, they will be responsible to other beneficiaries for any losses due to their negligence.
Finally, if there are multiple beneficiaries involved, allowing things to sit will cause increasing friction between the beneficiaries. Some beneficiaries may need their bequests. Others may disapprove of the investments. Still others may have personal issues or think someone is trying to abscond with the assets.
There may never be an ideal time to wrap up the decedent’s affairs. But, it must be done. Doing it in a more timely manner after the death will avoid complications with the government and the beneficiaries. So, take some time to grieve, but, within the first two or three weeks, set up an appointment with an estate planning attorney who can help you get things resolved. Taking the first step is the hardest. Once you choose a qualified estate planning attorney, they will help you each step of the way from then on. Having offloaded that worry, you can focus on grieving your loss, honoring their life, and moving forward with your own.
Contact the McGee Law Firm for a free one-hour personal consultation.
Compliments of the McGee Law Firm, Attorney Brandon McGee
Written By: The American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys