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What are some basic steps for dealing with an estate?

Following the death of a friend or loved one, what should you do to settle the person's estate? Your interaction with this process will depend on your relationship with the decedent as well as any estate planning documents the person left behind.

Many experts say that grief should come before finances, and families are often dealing with issues such as funeral arrangements immediately after a death. Unless a critical or time-sensitive financial issue is at play, such as a pending real estate sale, you can deal with grief and personal arrangements before becoming embroiled in estate and financial matters.

Understanding whether or not the estate must go through probate court is a good first step. This gives you an idea about how the estate is going to proceed in the near future. Not all estates go through the same steps, and the way they are handled is often determined by the value of the estate and the type of planning the person did before he or she passed away.

During the weeks that follow a person's death, those closest to the decedent or someone who is named as an executor of the estate should begin gathering information about the assets of the estate. In a case that involves solid estate planning, this information is probably recorded somewhere. If a record of assets is not available, then you will have to collect account statements and other information as it arrives over the course of a month or two.

If the decedent used an attorney, accountant, money adviser or other professional, an executor can reach out to these professionals for assistance with information. If you have concerns about the estate or validity of any document presented by family or friends, then working with your own lawyer can help you sort the chaff and truly honor a decedent's wishes.

Source: Bankrate, "The first steps to take when settling an estate," Dan Weil, accessed Nov. 06, 2015

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