When a loved one passes away it is a trying time for all parties involved. The tasks involved with dealing with a will can often be difficult and time consuming. However, under the direction of a Probate and Estate Planning Attorney most individuals are able to navigate the waters of the probate court and administer the estate. The following is a list of practical things to consider when someone close to you passes away.

  1. Locate the Will:
    • This is the first step in starting the probate process. If you do not have the Will, then perhaps ask a family member where it may be located. A few popular places are in safety deposit boxes, attorney’s office, or a lockbox. If a Will is not found, the property of the estate is distributed under the Statute of Decent and Distribution in the Ohio Revised Code (O.R.C.) 2105.06. Dying intestate means that a person has died without a will.
  2. Establish a Fiduciary for the estate:
    • A fiduciary is a person who is required to act in the best interests of the estate at all times. This personal representative is called either an executor (Will) or administrator (without a Will). This individual is responsible for gathering the a decedent’s assets, paying debts, taxes, and expenses, selling assets of the estate, if necessary, and distributing the remaining property and money according to the terms of the Will (or the intestate laws of the state of residence). The personal representative must preserve and protect the estate assets and account to the estate beneficiaries for estate income and expenses. The personal representative must file a federal estate tax return, and if necessary, federal (Form 1041) and state income tax returns for the estate (Ohio fiduciary income tax form IT-1041).
  3. Locate the following documents on behalf of the decedent:
    • Certified copies of the Death Certificate, to send to respective agencies.
    • Determining and recording the assets and estate left by the decedent and filing an inventory and appraisal of all probate assets with the court. For example: car titles, insurance policies, deeds and titles to real property, bank and brokerage accounts, and loans or contract payment books.
    • Birth certificates of children, marriage certificate, income tax forms and W-2s.
    • Opening a bank account through which any financial dealing pertaining to the estate can be dealt. Attach a death certificate and your court appointment papers to open an estate account along with a tax identification number.
    • The first step is closing accounts in the decedent’s name. Ensure that relevant authorities and organizations are informed of the person’s death (e.g. landlords, utility companies, social security, etc.).
    • Ensure that any payments that are due to the estate are received (such as insurance dividends, salaries, and any other income) notes and mortgages.
    • Wrapping up a business of the decedent or monitoring and accounting for the business if others are left to operate it.
  4. Notify other agencies about the decedent’s death as soon as possible to prevent fraud or any illegal activity:
    • People respond best to time deadlines, the statutes made and provided in the probate matters have strict time requirements for filing inventories, accounts, status reports and tax returns.
    • Check with the employer for unpaid salary, benefits or insurance policies, pensions, and lump sum death benefits.
    • Post Office
  5. According to O.R.C. §2106.18 (A), a surviving spouse is entitled to select two automobiles that were owned by the decedent at the time of death and not disposed of by specific testamentary disposition for transfer. The automobiles are classified as non-probate assets. The sum of the automobiles cannot exceed $40,000.
  6. Obtaining Tax Identification Number and Title to Assets: To obtain an Employer ID Number (EIN), go to the Internal Revenue Service’s website and click on “Employer ID Numbers” to apply online. You will need information on the estate such as date of death, address of decedent, executor’s name and address and decedent’s social security number in order to complete the application.

The death of a loved one is never easy. During this difficult period it is essential to pay your respects to the deceased but also make certain that their lifetime legacy is protected and preserved. The above referenced list should serve as a general guideline to identify some crucial issues of which family and friends should be aware. As always, when faced with legal and financial issues it crucial to contact legal and financial professionals for assistance.

Peter C. Kratcoski, Esq.
Alexandria LaRocca, Researcher