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Managing the initial steps of a California estate settlement

The loss of a loved one is a highly-stressful event. Someone, often a close family member, also may be responsible for the settlement of the decedent's estate. An attorney's input is useful, since some legal issues require attention even as survivors struggle to manage their grief.

The first step is to learn what power you have to make decisions. Make no assumptions about settling a California estate until you find and see a will or trust naming you as a fiduciary – an executor or trustee. Without this power, any move you make to resolve the decedent's financial matters is invalid and improper.

When an individual dies without a will, a probate judge chooses an estate administrator. The court-appointed representative, who may be a third party, performs the same duties that would have applied to an executor.

Multiple copies of death certificates, supplied by a funeral home, will be necessary throughout the estate settlement process - from tax to benefit filings. A will must be filed with the appropriate court, a task that may be undertaken by an executor, attorney or possibly the bank where the will was stored.

Other vital paperwork includes additional estate planning and personal identification documents, like birth and marriage certificates and a Social Security card. Assets and liabilities must be identified through insurances, account statements, deeds and titles. Bills must be tallied and paid. Beneficiaries whose names are found in the discovery process must be notified.

Contact should be established with the decedent's employer or ex-employer to locate benefits and insurances. Agencies that supplied benefits, including Social Security, and creditors must be notified. An Internal Revenue Service application should be submitted for an estate tax identification number.

Numerous estate settlement responsibilities are attached to timelines. It's not unusual for an executor or trustee to seek at least temporary help from tax or legal professionals during the settlement of an estate.

Source: Ahwatukee Foothills News, "Settling a loved one’s financial affairs" Kim DeVoss, Jan. 06, 2014

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