Estate Settlement and Probate: Getting Organized

Getting Organized in the Estate Settlement Process... or even better...Becoming Efficient

probate organizing process

For the Personal Representative the new tasks of Estate Settlement offers a new opportunity to start an organization process that produces real results.

The Personal Representative who is a family member or close friend of the decedent will carry a heavy load. They will deal with their grief publicly when dealing with professionals, as well as privately, when care-taking the decedents; personal effects, property and finances.

Being constantly reminded of your loved one, can be emotionally taxing and drain you of your energy.   There will be situations when every Personal Representative will need to take a “time out” to recharge their batteries. If you are involved in the process, tell the people close to you to be aware of this likelihood as well. They may need to call a“time out” for you. (go to grief care articles)

Energy Conservation – Concentrate on getting good fuel mileage

Most human beings only have a certain level of emotional fuel in the tank.   Becoming organized in the process of Estate Settlement, means that precious energy will not be wasted.   The goal is to become efficient and not let the process consume the Personal Representatives life i.e., a gas guzzler.   Getting confused, lost, or overwhelmed can create serious apprehension roadblocks.   A major strategy to prevent, or overcome “Executor or Personal Representative Paralysis” is organization.

Being organized is not about:

  • Changing your personality or who you are
  • A big time commitment
  • Being a “neat freak”

Being organized should be:

  • A practical and simple method to become efficient
  • A systematic approach that saves time and conserves physical and emotional energy
  • A strategy that allows for flexibility and delegation to others (when circumstances suggest)

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The Core Strategy of Efficiency is to Separate: Planning and Taking Action

 Planning is a creative (mental) process which includes:

  • Creating lists
  • Establishing priorities
  • Creating criteria for delegation
  • Developing timelines, calendars and schedules
  • Acquiring the proper tools and learning how to use them
  • Considers what can go wrong (ahead of time) and contemplates future alternative strategies (and subsequent plans and lists)
  • Requires mental energy

 Taking Action is a physical process which applies:

  • Simple, sequential actions – Taking cumulative steps without distraction
  • Single-mindedness
  • The fewer decisions to be made, the better
  • Requires a cooperative “spirit” to work with others and patience
  • Requires physical energy - adequate rest, a proper diet and emotional health

Planning and Taking Action estate settlement tasks at the same time will create unnecessary anxiety, pressures and emotional distress.    If you find yourself in this circumstance, (punt) or take a time out and restart the planning process.   After you are comfortable with your plan then execute. Don't plan and execute at the same time.

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Tackling Elephants

Activities like cleaning house, organizing and storing property is a routine task when we do it in our own home. When we do this in another person’s home it’s more difficult. When we do these tasks in a deceased loved one’s home every item is heavier and finding each items “rightful place” creates a cloud of unease, nervousness and potential guilt.  

While working, in the decedent’s home and among their belongings you may feel “a little haunted”.   It is important that you realize that you are placed in an unusual situation and your uncomfortable feelings are a perfectly reasonable response to a difficult circumstance.   Try to remember it’s not you, it’s the situation.

Be careful of jumping in and trying to “tackle the decedent’s closet” before you are ready.   Doing so, can be a emotionally torturous (and needless) experience. Before you attempt to tackle these elephants… Hold off, (if you are so inclined …pray about it) and get a plan and strategy in place before you touch any item.   A thoughtful plan of the decedent’s affairs and property will preserve the dignity of the decedent and the self respect of the Executor or Personal Representative.  

Get Ready for Game Day

Talking to family members about your plans and getting new ideas may also be helpful.   But the Executor or Personal Representative should not “give away” their responsibilities, because they will become responsible for other peoples actions.   If you are to be held accountable for actions taken (which you will be) then you must maintain control.

The Personal Representative is the play calling coach, sure you can get advice from others but you are the one who "calls the shots". Football teams plan and think about their game day for five or six days.   On the seventh day (planning is over) the coach grabs their game plan (play lists) and charges the field. The Personal Representative's should do the same.

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Estate Settlement Document Checklist

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Documents to Gather:


� Certified Copy of the Death Certificate.

� Original Will and Codicil, if any.

� Records of any public assistance received by the decedent.

This includes: Old Age Assistance, Aid to the Permanently and Totally Disabled, and Medical Assistance (including Medicaid).  

Documents regarding outstanding bills, debts, or claims against the decedent such as:

� General obligations. Current bills, including utilities and monthly services.

� Credit card records and statements, issuers, and account numbers.

� Loans and notes due (including mortgages): name of the lender(s) and the amount(s) owed at death.

� Unpaid taxes – income, property, business enterprise, interest and dividends, etc.

� Medical or hospital expenses and other monies owing for the last illness.

� Mortgages due.

� Other general obligations.

� Funeral charges and monument expenses.

� All important records of any business that the decedent owned, either totally or in part, including information regarding assets and debts.


Assets (learn about transferring assets)

� Stocks and Bonds Certificates.

� Certificates of title to personal property such as automobiles.

� Insurance policies or any pension or profit sharing plan for which a death benefit is available.

� Decedent’s last Federal income tax return and NH Interest and Dividends Tax return.

(Find the name and address of the decedent’s accountant, if any.)

� Gift Tax returns.

� Papers concerning Social Security and Veteran’s Benefits.


Personal Information — Decedent:

� Full Name.

� Home Address.

� Home Telephone.

� Date of Birth.

� Place of Birth.

� Social Security Number.

� Place of Employment.

� Occupation.

� Date of Death.

� Place of Death.

� Attending Physician.

� Funeral Home.

� Was the decedent a veteran?

� If yes, will funeral home apply for VA benefits?


If decedent left no surviving spouse:

� Name and date of death of spouse.

� If divorced or legally separated, name of spouse and date of divorce. (If date of divorce unknown, place where divorce granted.)


Personal Information — Surviving Spouse:

� Full Name.

� Home Address.

� Date of Birth.

� Social Security Number.

� Date of Marriage to Decedent.

� Place of Marriage.

� Place of Employment.

� Office Telephone Number.


Decedent’s Family Members

When you make your list of family members, use the guide below. Note the relationship of each person to the decedent.

Gather the names, addresses, social security numbers, and phone numbers of:

� Children. (Note if any are stepchildren.)

� Parents.

� Brothers, sisters.

� Grandchildren, nieces, nephews.

� Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins to the fourth degree.


Others mentioned in the will

� Names, addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers or tax identification numbers, of legatees (note relationship to decedent).


Bank Accounts

Indicate if the assets are in the decedent’s name alone or jointly held. If jointly held, indicate with whom.

� Name and Address of Bank(s).

� Safe Deposit Box Number(s).

� Location of Key(s).

� Contents of the Safe Deposit Box( es).

� Savings Account Numbers.

� Checking Account Numbers.

� Balance(s) at date of death.

� Certificate of Deposit numbers and amounts.

� Investment or Money Market Account numbers and amounts.


Real Estate (see dealing with real estate)

List the following for all real estate owned by the decedent, whether or not it was held in joint tenancy.

� Location. (If the real estate is located out of state, you should consult an attorney in that state to determine the correct procedures.)

� Full Name.

� Home Address.

� Date of Birth.

� Social Security Number.

� Date of Marriage to Decedent.

� Place of Marriage.

� Place of Employment.

� Office Telephone Number.

� Deed Reference (book and page number at County Registry of Deeds).

� Mortgage and name of bank holding mortgage.

� Mortgage Insurance

� Assessed Value at date of death (on tax bill).

� Name(s) on deed.



If possible, photocopy certificates. If not, list the following information:

� Name of Corporation.

� Certificate Number.

� Common or Preferred stock

� Number of shares.

� Value at date of death.

� Name(s) on certificates.

� Type of bond (i.e. US Treasury, Savings, municipal etc.).

� Series number.

� Numbers on the bonds.

� Face value of the bonds.

� Value at date of death.

� Name(s) on certificates.

� Name and account number for all brokerage accounts.

� Monthly or year-end account statements from which decedent’s investment holdings can be determined.

NOTE: The actual investment certificates can either be held by the brokerage firm (“in street name”) or, by the decedent. If the latter, you will need to look for the stock or bond certificate among the decedent’s effects.


Personal Property

Include the titles, registrations and insurance policies for the following:

NOTE: if the vehicles are being operated while probate is pending, make sure the insurance company is notified and the policies are fully paid.

� Automobiles

� Motorcycles

� Recreational Vehicles

� Boats

� Airplanes


List the following:

� Valuable personal property, such as coin or stamp collections, camera or video equipment, jewelry, antiques or art collections.

� Make arrangements for any pets which may need to be removed from the decedent’s premises and cared for.


Life insurance

� Company name.

� Policy number.

� Amount.

� Beneficiary.

� Insurance agent’s name address and telephone number.

� Where the policies are located?

NOTE: If death occurred accidentally on a trip paid for, at least in part, with a credit card, the card issuing company will often provide life insurance and/or medical coverage. Therefore, the decedent’s credit card records should be reviewed. If there are no records, contact the card-issuing company .

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