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Handling your deceased loved one's estate

The loss of a loved one is a tragic event in a person's life. Even if you knew that the person wasn't going to be around for much longer, the actual death can be difficult to handle. Once you get past the final arrangements and funeral, you will likely have to deal with the estate.

What happens during the probate process depends largely on what type of planning your loved one did before they passed. It isn't always easy to handle these matters, so being prepared ahead of time for what's to come might make it a bit less stressful.

When there is an estate plan

When there is a legally-binding estate plan -- which is known as dying testate -- you will rely on that plan to handle the estate. The plan should appoint a person as the administrator. This individual handles all matters related to the estate, including paying the bills and filing the taxes. The administrator will also find assets and heirs so that the distribution of the estate can occur as it should.

When there isn't an estate plan

Some people don't have an estate plan when they pass away, which is known as dying intestate. This makes things a bit more challenging for the heirs because they don't have any documentation of the decedent's intentions. In these cases, California's laws regarding the disbursement of assets applies. The estate will need a person named as the personal representative to handle all of the matters that would fall on the administrator of a testate case. This person will identify heirs and make sure that all estate matters, including the distribution of assets, is handled appropriately.

When challenges arise

There are times when someone will challenge the will. These cases can be very difficult because they pit family members against each other. It might be possible to work through these matters with the person who contested the estate plan, but it might require a trial to get things hashed out. In these cases, it is best to try to remember that the legal case shouldn't define your relationship with the person. Your relationship might not ever return to what it was before the issue, but you might be able to salvage part of it if you remember that stuff is just stuff.

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