Guest Spotlight – Shannon Hartzler, Estate Planning Attorney
- When a loved one dies, there are a lot of steps you need to take that can get very complicated, but if you do them right away in the first few weeks, it doesn’t have to be.
- If you are the fiduciary to an estate plan, remember that while it’s your duty to pay the beneficiaries to the estate plan, it’s also your duty to pay creditors to the estate plan first and in order.
- Get in touch with an attorney and an accountant right away if you find yourself to be the executor of an estate plan so that you know what your duties are and what to do.
My name is Shannon Hartzler, and I am an estate planning attorney. One of the most common phone calls I get in my practice is, “Hey, my dad died, and he named me as executor, what do I do?” I am going to cover the things you will want to do when a loved one dies.
Where do I begin?
There are a few things you will want to do right away that will make your life much easier, especially if you do them in the first few weeks after death. Of course, it’s always easier said than done, because when a family member dies, it’s tough. You have people coming and going, and there’s just so many things that need to be taken care of. However, there are some simple steps you can take right away to make things run smoother:
- Coordinate with the funeral home – Make sure they are notifying Social Security of the death, because if they don’t, the executor has to do it.
- Order multiple death certificates – I recommend that my clients get about 20. It’s usually more than you need, but it’s much easier to have more than you need up front than to have to mess with re-ordering them again and again.
- Find out if there’s a will – If there is a will, find out who has the original will, because in the state of Illinois, this will need to be filed in court within 30 days of the death, even if there is not going to be a formal court probate. This is something a law firm can help you with.
- Get in touch with the decedent’s attorney and accountant. Some people need a lot of hand-holding through this process, and some don’t, but either way, you will want to get a hold of the accountant and attorney, if your decedent had either or both. They will be able to get you any necessary documents, let you know what the assets are, where they are located, if there’s an estate plan, and what that is.
- If no estate plan, talk to an attorney – An attorney can help you understand what the rules under Illinois Intestacy Law are when there is no estate plan. This law governs how assets are distributed when there’s no will, so you’ll definitely want to know that.
- Get a tax identification number for the estate – Once a person dies, that person’s estate becomes its own separate, taxable entity. As executor, you need to get a tax identification number for the estate either by working with an attorney, an accountant, or apply yourself on the IRS website.
- Open a bank account – Once you have the tax identification number for the estate, you’ll want to open a bank account under that number, and that’s where a lot of your accounts are going to go. An account that has a beneficiary designated to it will be handled according to that designation, but lots of people have accounts just sitting out there in their own individual names. Those are going to need to be re-titled into the name of the estate, so that you can distribute them properly, according to the estate plan.
Beneficiaries, to the end of the line!
Something to keep in mind is that beneficiaries of the estate plan are always the last people to get paid. So, while fiduciaries have a duty to pay the beneficiaries according to the estate plan, they have an equal duty to the creditors of the estate, all of whom get paid before the beneficiaries. And there’s a certain order, according to law, that these creditors must be paid.
Get the help of professionals
If you find yourself to be the executor when a loved one dies, get in touch with an attorney and an accountant right away. They can tell you what your duties are, and you can find out what you should be doing in those first few weeks so things don’t get complicated. I’ve worked on so many estates in my career where they should have been really simple, but then I see the date on the death certificate, and it’s four years ago. That makes it hard, and it really doesn’t have to be that way.
Thanks so much, great chat, and see you soon! Shannon Hartzler
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Gary Klaben is in our Glenview, IL office and serves our clients who are now located all over the country. He has over 30 years of experience and is the author of Changing the Conversation, Wealth of Everything and co-author of The Business Battlefield. Whether advising his clients, mentoring his team, or coaching entrepreneurs, he is always simplifying complexity and motivating others to take the next action that’s right for them.
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