My deepest pain comes when I must say goodbye to family, friends and other loved ones when they pass away. To me, the loss of a loved one is the most severe feeling of broken-heartedness imaginable. Unfortunately, physical death is a part of life. Here is a practical guide of what to do when we are forced to face this inevitability.
First, take time to breathe deeply and grieve. Meet with the funeral director of your choice, plan your method of saying goodbye and greet the out-of-town family and friends who will come to grieve with you. It is OK to cry and reminisce and love.
Second, after the funeral, it is a good idea to hire an attorney to help with the nuts and bolts of changing ownership of the loved one’s assets. A surviving spouse or other family members can hire any competent attorney, even if the attorney was not the attorney who prepared the will or even kept the will. If some of the immediate family are from out of town, it is nice but not essential to have an initial family meeting with the attorney before those family members leave town. The attorney will provide specific direction from that point, but what happens thereafter is generally as follows:
You will want to locate various documents and information. Look for the original will any trust agreements.
In addition to the will and any trusts, you should prepare a list of all financial responsibilities the loved one had when he or she died.
Then, you should prepare a detailed list of every piece of real estate and personal property that the loved one owned at the time of his or her death. This means identifying every bank account, investment account, retirement account, life insurance policy, stock and bond and ownership in cooperatives such as local electric and telephone companies.
Using the information above, simply stated, each asset (piece of property) will fit into one of two categories. If an asset has specific rules attached to that asset that define the new ownership of the asset when the owner dies, that asset is considered “non-probate.”
For non-probate assets, the rules attached to that asset define the new owner of that property. For example, life insurance is governed by the policy (rules), so the policy will define who gets the insurance proceeds. If bank or other account was set up as “payable on death,” those rules will define who gets the money when the owner of the account dies. And, a trust is really just a set of rules, so a trust’s rules will define who acquires ownership of the assets in that trust and under what conditions upon the death of the current owner.
Any specific asset to which rules are not attached is considered to be a “probate” asset. Probate is the court-overseen process of paying bills and distributing assets through the instructions in a person’s will, or under Ohio law if the person did not have a will.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.