Adjusting to the death of a loved one can be a very difficult process. This article is provided to help you deal with the problems and processes surrounding a death in the easiest and simplest manner possible.
Although some major decisions are unavoidable at this time, many can be put off until you are feeling less vulnerable. When a death has occurred, there is usually a need to administer the estate of the decedent. Every estate should be considered unique and not all estates will have administrative duties. Some small estates, under particular circumstances, will not even require administration.
If there are multiple beneficiaries or heirs, make every effort to keep them informed of your actions on their behalf and consult with them, if possible, especially where there is no Will.
The responsibility will be great and the anxiety will remain for months but through careful planning, expert advice and family support, you can resolve the duties in a manner that will provide you with personal satisfaction.
This article is not intended to be a substitute for advice of a legal counsel or an accountant, which should be sought on specific manners. It has been provided by the Tribute Foundation of the New York State Funeral Directors Association.
What to do at the time of death?
When a death has occurred, depending on where it has occurred determines whom you should call. If death occurs in a hospital or nursing facility, you should contact the funeral director you have chosen to assist you.
If death occurs at home and the deceased is under hospice care, you should contact the hospice who will dispatch a nurse to the home to pronounce death. At this point, the hospice nurse will ask you which funeral home you will be using and they will call us.
If death occurs at home and the deceased is not under hospice care, you will need to call 911 who will dispatch emergency services to pronounce the death. The police will also arrive and will fill out the necessary paperwork in order to release the deceased to the funeral director. While waiting for the police to arrive, you should contact the funeral director to alert them so they can prepare to come once the deceased has been released by the police.
After the Funeral, Now What
You will need several copies of certified death certificates. The easiest way to obtain a copy is to ask the funeral director for assistance. The cost of each copy varies by county; $10 to $30 each.
Caring for the Deceased’s Property:
When a person dies, it is important to account for the deceased person’s property, making sure it is safe and protected. If the person lived alone, make arrangements to stop newspaper deliveries and have mail forwarded or held at the post office for daily pickup.
The matter of who will inherit the deceased’s property is determined by the estate planning arrangements that were made by the person during their lifetime.
Immediate Financial Concerns
At some point after the funeral, there will be financial concerns that will need to be dealt with. Listed below are some of the items you should expect will need to be handled:
When a death occurs, people and businesses who are owed money usually understand and will work with you to get through this difficult time.
- Contact creditors and make special arrangements if it is difficult to make timely payments
- Family members or friends providing money to cover immediate need will be reimbursed from the estate.
- When paying bills, keep careful records of payments or loans Paying Bills
Utility Bills-make sure to pay utility bills to ensure continued service Medical Bills-These bills are often covered by Medicare, Medicaid or a medical insurance plan.
Before making any payments, call the appropriate agency to obtain the necessary information or forms.
Long Term Debts
Be sure to make regular payments on long term debts such as mortgages, car loans or retail installment contracts until the estate is settled.
Access to Bank Accounts
If the deceased was the only one authorized to sign a bank account, these monies at banks or other financial institutions may not be immediately available. Accounts with co-signers or joint accounts will generally be available to draw funds out with rights of survivorship. The other account holder will generally have access to the funds and may be deemed the owner of the funds.
Stocks and Bonds
United States Savings Bonds are often payable upon death to another person. Any person whose name is registered along with the deceased’s name on bonds payable on death, may redeem the bonds. When redeeming the Bonds, a certified death certificate must be presented. The person cashing the bonds should be aware that the interest earned on the U.S. Savings Bonds is taxable as income to the recipients.
Certain documents will need to be provided before a person whose name is registered on the stock with the deceased’s can sell those shares. Consult a stockbroker or legal or financial advisor for more information.
Safe Deposit Boxes
Anyone who has the right of access to that box may open that box
- When opening a safe deposit box, make an accurate record of all of the contents and note any items removed.
- If the deceased was the only one authorized to open the box, or if the other authorized person is not available, legal or formal proceedings may be necessary to open the box.
Life insurance proceeds are usually paid to the named beneficiaries within a few weeks after filing the required form. This form is submitted to the insurance company, together with the policy and a certified copy of the death certificate. If the death was accidental and the policy contains a provision for additional coverage in that event, some proof of the accident will be required.
Inventory of Assets
A very complete and detailed listing of all the assets of the deceased, the value at the time of death, and the “fair market value” of each item should be compiled immediately. If the deceased was married, the list should reflect any items that are jointly owned with the decedent’s spouse. If necessary, a professional appraiser can be hired and paid from the estate. List assets in the following order:
Includes the deceased person’s residence, any summer or recreational real property, other interests in land owned by the deceased. Property tax statements show the assessed value, not the fair market value. It would be wise to consult a real estate agent or appraiser for an estimate of fair market value at the time of death.
Stocks and Bonds
List all shares of stock, bonds, notes payable to the deceased and other securities, including the name or names in which they are registered.
Cash, Financial Institutions
List the exact name for each account, the account number and financial institutions, branch and balance as of the date of death.
List all insurance policies which pay benefits upon the policy holder’s death. Include life, mortgage or credit insurance.
- Motor Vehicles-Include year/make/mode/registration number/mileage/ and condition. Determine the value of the vehicle with help from Kelly Blue Book or the NADA Guide.
- Boats-Include the year/make/model identification numbers.
- Furniture and Furnishings-Be sure to include all major appliances, sporting equipment and antiques.
- A detailed listing is generally not necessary except for specific items of particular value and for items which have been specifically bequeathed to someone in the decedent’s Will.
- Employment Benefits-List pensions, and profit sharing plans, IRA’s or 401K’s.
Listing in this order will help people inheriting the assets to determine its value and in reporting any capital gains tax due if they sell the item.
Transfer of Estate Property
Probate is the technical, legal term for distribution of the deceased person’s estate under the supervision of the court. It is designed to protect all those who have an interest in the deceased’s property, such as immediate family, joint tenants, creditors and the taxing authorities.
Is Probate Necessary
In many cases, probate proceedings are not necessary to transfer property of the deceased to persons entitled to it. Depending on a variety of factors, probate may be necessary or preferable. Consultation with a legal advisor is recommended. The probate procedures in New York State are relatively simple and in most cases require very little court intervention.
Appointment of an Executor or Administrator. This person takes charge of the property, its distribution, and the filing of necessary papers in Court. Often times, an Executor is named in the Will. If there is no Will, the Court will usually appoint a surviving spouse or relative to serve as Administrator of the decedent’s Estate.
- Provide proof to the Probate Court that the Will is valid and is the last Will of the deceased.
- Provide written notice of probate proceedings to all known distributes and beneficiaries.
- Give actual notice of the deceased’s death to the U.S. Social Security Administration and any other state, private agency, or company that the decedent may have been receiving periodic payments from their lifetime.
- After all these steps have been taken, the Court will issue letters Testamentary to the Executor of the Estate and the Executor can do whatever is necessary to then administer the estate in accordance with the decedent’s Will. That includes appraising property, investing and managing assets, paying creditors, filing and paying taxes, and transferring assets.
- File receipts and releases from the beneficiaries and a report that the Estate has been fully distributed with the Court once the process is concluded and all the steps have been completed.
Estates Under $20,000
As long as real property is not involved, New York State Law allows for the transfer of small estates by a Voluntary Administrator to either beneficiaries named in the decedent’s Will or if there is no Will, to the decedent’s intestate distributes as long as:
- they are entitled to the estate;
- notification is given to all distributes; and 3) these conditions are met:
- The estate is under $20,000 exclusive of joint bank accounts, trust accounts, U.S. Savings Bonds POD, and jointly owned personal property.
- No probate proceeding is pending.
- All decedent’s valid debts have been satisfied.
- All estate debts paid.
If all these conditions are met, the Voluntary Administrator must submit a completed, signed and notarized affidavit affirming that these steps have or will be taken. The Court then issues a certificate which allows the transfer of assets to the Voluntary Administrator so that expenses and debts can be paid and then distribution of the remaining assets made to the beneficiaries or distributees.
Property held in joint tenancy with a right of survivorship usually can be transferred after a few requisites are met. These may include furnishing a copy of the death certificate and if the decedent died after February 1, 2000, and the estate is OVER $675,000, proof that no federal or state taxes are due.
Even though a death has occurred, taxes are still due by the April 15 deadline. An extension can be requested from the IRS and NY State if all the information needed is not readily available.
Further information can be obtained from the IRS taxpayer information services listed under US Internal Revenue Service in your telephone directory and the NY State Department of Taxation and Finance.
Property taxes are also due at the same time and in the same manner as if the deceased person was still alive. Contact the local treasurer’s office in the City, Town, or Village where the decedent resided for more information on property taxes.
The federal government assesses a tax based on the deceased person’s estate. In most cases, a federal estate tax return has to be filed only if the federal estate tax return has to be filed only if the total value of the deceased person’s estate exceeds $675,000 (for person’s dying after February 1, 2000) increasing periodically to $1,000,000 in 2006. If the Estate is required to file a federal and/or New York State tax return, they must be filed and all taxes paid within nine months of the date of death. The tax will be based on the following:
- All property in the decedent’s name alone at the time of death
- Large gifts made immediately prior to death unless gift tax returns were previously filed and any applicable tax paid.
- Life insurance proceeds, unless ownership was transferred more than three years prior to death or the decedent never actually owned the policy.
- The value of the decedent’s interest in jointly or co-owned property.
The “Marital Deduction”
The value of most property which passes to a surviving spouse is deducted from the value of the estate. It would be wise to check with the IRS and a financial advisor for more information. Contact your local IRS office for more information and the appropriate forms.
Helpful Telephone Numbers
New York State Tax Information: 1-800-225-5829
NY State Division of Veteran Affairs: 1-888-838-7697
NY State Crime Victims Board: 1-800-247-8035
NY State Department of Labor: 1-518-457-3584
Medicaid: (Contact the local Department of Social & Health Services Office. Look under New York State in your phone book.)
Social Security Information: 1-800-772-1213
Federal Tax Information and Assistance: 1-800-829-1040