Have you recently suffered the loss of a beloved parent? Are you feeling alone, unmoored, lost without the person you would often turn to for advice, conversation or memories? In addition, have you just been informed that you have a responsibility in the final affairs of your deceased parent? Are you the personal representative of the last will and testament or the successor trustee of a trust agreement? Either or both of these roles will require significant responsibilities, and we know it may raise significant questions that you need answered before moving forward in this capacity. We would like to address a few of the most frequent estate planning questions or concerns we hear from our clients after the loss of a parent.
1. Begin at once to make a list of all of the assets you know that were owned by your deceased parent. What did your parent own? Your parent probably owned a house and a car but what about stocks, investment accounts, insurance policies or digital currency?
2. Find out and identify what income your parent was receiving on a monthly or annual basis. You can do this by checking the mail, looking for statements, and looking at digital accounts if you have access. You may have to return any money sent to your deceased parent after death.
3. Begin to keep track of any and all bills that are being received. Again, check your parent’s mail, look at digital accounts if you have access to them, and also keep track of your expenses if you have paid for anything. This could include, but not be limited to, utilities, cable, phone, health care expenses and premiums, and expenses for final arrangements. Be sure to bring these expenses to the Florida estate planning and probate attorney you will be working with so he can assist you in correctly managing the estate.
4. Keep an ongoing list of your questions. Do not worry, it is completely normal to not know what you should do next. We recommend that you keep a list of all of your questions so you can obtain the answers you need from your attorney.
5. Do not hesitate to reach out and get the support you need. Handling the estate of your beloved parent is difficult so do not go through it alone. Be sure to reach out to your spouse, siblings, family members or trusted advisor who can help you through this process. These circumstances may seem overwhelming, so do not be afraid to ask for help. Your Florida probate attorney and his staff are also ready to answer any questions or concerns.
6. When your parent passed away, was your parent single or married? This may seem like a simple question, but is it? If your parent was married, is this your parent as well or a spouse from a later marriage? The answers may have an impact on who is in charge and how assets will be distributed. In addition, if you have a surviving parent, you may have additional concerns to think about to ensure he or she is safe during this emotional and difficult time.
7. Do you currently have your deceased parent’s original estate planning documents? Are you named as the personal representative of the last will and testament or trustee of the trust agreement? If you do not know the answer to these questions or have concerns about them, do not feel alone. Your Florida estate planning and probate attorney can help you determine what to do next.
8. It is highly recommended that you consult with a Florida estate planning and probate attorney experienced in this area. In Florida, there are specific statutes and rules governing the matters of probate or estate administration for a last will and testament and trust administration for trust agreements. There is no replacement for experience in this area. Research and make sure you are working with a Florida attorney who is not only familiar with estate planning but has significant experience in handling these probate matters for the family.
9. Finally, and most importantly, do not neglect your own estate planning. After the death of a parent there is much to do. As you experience handling the estate of your deceased parent, be sure that you, your family, and your legacy are protected for the future. If your recently deceased parent was a decision maker in your estate plan or a beneficiary, your estate planning will need to be updated. You may also have different goals in light of your experiences. Do not wait to meet with an experienced Florida estate planning attorney who can provide you with critical information in this area.
Now after all the above has been discussed, you may be facing the opposite situation and are not named in the estate plan of your deceased parent. This may mean that you have not been assigned a role of responsibility, are only meant to be a beneficiary of the overall estate, or are not included at all for some reason. It also may mean that your parent did not take the time to create an estate plan, and your parent has passed away intestate, or without a will. In this latter instance, the distribution of your deceased parent’s estate will be governed by state law. It is still recommended that you consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to learn more about what both of these scenarios could mean for you.
Our estate planning law firm takes a very different approach from what you might have come to expect. Our goal is to create lifelong relationships with each of our clients, to guide and manage your legacy for the rest of your life. Please contact our offices in Stuart and in Palm City to learn more.