The loss of your mother, regardless of the circumstances nor your age when it happens, is often traumatic. Understandably, it can be almost impossible to focus on anything but your grief. If you are responsible for handling the legal ramifications of her death though, you must focus on doing so while still managing your grief. This can be even harder to do if you have never before administered an estate. To help you, a Minot estate planning attorney at German Law explains some of the common steps involved in probating an estate.
Are You the Executor?
Before you can do anything, you must have the legal authority required to handle the administration of your mother’s estate. If she left behind a Last Will and Testament, that document will appoint an Executor. The Executor is the person that the decedent (your mother in this case) trusted to oversee the probate of the estate. If your mother died intestate, or without a Will, someone you will need to volunteer to be the Personal Representative of the estate. For the most part, an Executor and an Personal Representative have the same duties and responsibilities during the probate of an estate.
Now What Do I Do?
Once you have obtained the legal authority required to move forward, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced probate attorney to ensure that you understand what is required of you because every probate process is unique. In general, however, the following legal steps will likely need to be taken following your mother’s death:
- Deciding if probate s required, and if so, which type if required – you need to estimate the value of the estate as soon as possible for the purpose of deciding which type of probate will be required. In North Dakota, estates with probate assets valued at less than $50,000 may qualify for a simplified probate process. This requires you to first categorize assets as probate or non-probate. Common examples of non-probate assets include assets held in a trust, proceeds of a life insurance policy, certain types of jointly held property, and financial accounts with a POD or TOD designation.
- Obtain several copies of the death certificate. Your will likely need several certified copies of your mother’s death certificate which should be available within several days of his/her death. The North Dakota Division of Vital Records explains how you may obtain a certified copy on its website.
- Make funeral and burial arrangements. The details of this step will depend, to a great extent, on whether your mother pre-planned her own service or not. When you check for estate planning documents, look for a pre-paid funeral contract or for a funeral trust agreement. If a contract exists, contact the funeral home that is a party to the contract. If your mother created a funeral trust, the person named as the Trustee in that trust agreement is responsible for administering the trust and the terms of the trust dictate the details of the funeral and burial.
- Open probate in the appropriate court– if the estate does not qualify for a simplified probate process, it is important to get the formal process started as soon as possible for several reasons. One reason is so the court can issue the “Letters Testamentary” that give you the authority to do things such as close accounts, open safe deposit boxes, and manage real property owned by your mother. To initiate probate, you will need to prepare the appropriate petition and file that, along with the original Will and a copy of the death certificate, with the appropriate probate court.
- Secure assets. Financial and investment accounts owned by your mother must be closed. You must take control of real property and secure personal property. If your mother owned a safety deposit box, you should at least inventory the contents of that box. In short, you must make sure that all assets are accounted for and under your control until such time as you are allowed by law to transfer them to the new owners.
Contact a Minot Probate Attorney
Please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you find yourself in charge of probating your mother’s estate and would like some help, contact a Minot estate planning attorney at German Law by calling 701-738-0060 to schedule an appointment.