Estate administration can be difficult, especially when you’re also grieving over the loss of a loved one. The best way to make sure you are fulfilling all your duties as the estate administrator is to break your tasks down into manageable chunks. In part one of this series, I explained how to collect important documents and contact the necessary individuals and organizations. Now I’d like to talk about the next few steps: gathering information about the deceased’s estate, followed bythe identification and evaluation of all assets.
Gathering Information about Estate Assets
If you’ve been appointed the personal representative of the decedent’s estate, you’ll be responsible for gathering a certain amount of information and documents concerning the estate, including:
- Safe Deposit Box. If the decedent legally shared a safe deposit box with another person, such as a surviving spouse, that person has the immediate right of access. You, on the other hand, as the personal representative of the estate, have the right to access it, whether it has your name on it or not. As long as you can present a certified copy of your letters of authority showing that you are the appointed personal representative, the lessor will grant you access to the contents of a safe deposit box belonging to the decedent. You’ll need to make an inventory of the assets from the box.
- Credit card statements.If the decedent had multiple credit cards, you will need to obtain statements for every card.
- Bank account statements.Most banking is done online these days, but if the decedent kept and balanced a checkbook, you’ll need it,as well.
- Brokerage account statements. This may include IRAs and retirement plans.
- Any documents related to property ownership. This may include deeds, property tax bills, and a copy of the mortgage, along with documentation of the most recent payment if the decedent was still paying off the mortgage on any property.
- Life insurance policies
- Vehicle title and registration
- Tax returns. You’ll need to gather documentation of income and gift tax returns filed by the decedent for the last three years.
- Promissory notes and outstanding bills. You will need to gather any documents that provide evidence of loans or debts owed by the decedent. This might include medical bills.
- A list of personal assets. You will need to make a detailed list of all valuable personal assets, such as jewelry or artwork, as well as any insurance policies the decedent may have had for these items.
Valuing the Assets
Once you’ve made an inventory of all the estate assets, you’ll need to assess their value at the moment of the decedent’s death. This is an important step because many assets may not have been appraised in years, and their value may have changed. You might need to bring in an appraiser to get an accurate estimate of the value of all assets.
You’ll also need to determine the ownership of certain assets. For example, assets that were jointly owned by the decedent and the surviving spouse will automatically go to the latter. If the decedent left a will, you’ll also be able to use this to determine ownership of various assets.
In the upcoming final part of this series, I’ll talk more about the administrative proceedings behind estate administration, as well as how to preserve, distribute, and transfer estate assets. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about estate administration or you’re looking for professional assistance in setting up an estate plan, contact Wintter& Associates.
About the Author:
Christopher Q. Wintter is the founder of Wintter & Associates, P.A. and a board-certified expert in Trust and Estate matters by the Florida Bar. With more than 24 years’ experience as a practicing attorney, he also serves as an instructor and faculty member for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA)—the nation’s leading provider of legal advocacy skills training to practicing attorneys—and has earned the AV® Preeminent™ rating with LexisNexis Martindale Hubbell. He was also selected for inclusion in Florida Super Lawyers for 2011. 2012 and 2014 in Estate and Trust Litigation.