THE FACTS: I am trying to help my elderly parents organize their affairs. They want things to be as simple as possible for me when it comes time to handle their estates. My parents have wills and other advanced directives in place.
THE QUESTIONS: Other than their wills, are there other documents or any types of information that they should collect and organize now to make the administration of their estates easier?
THE ANSWER: You are lucky to have parents who seem to appreciate the fact that administering an estate is not necessarily easy and who are anxious to have everything in place. Having wills will certainly help you with respect to distributing your parents’ assets after they pass. However, distributing assets is often one of the last things that an executor must do.
Long before distributions are made it will be necessary to make funeral arrangements, contact life insurance carriers and banking and investment institutions, gain access to your parents’ safe deposit box, cancel credit card accounts, as well as all online accounts that your parents may have and locate documents relating to any real estate they may own or lease, to name a few.
While many of these things can be done before your parents’ wills are admitted to probate, you will not be able to marshal assets, close bank accounts or sell property until you are issued letters testamentary by the Surrogate’s Court. If your parents keep their wills in a safe deposit box, you will not be able to even get the will without a court order.
Although not exhaustive, the following is a list of the types of documents and some of the information that your parents may want to put together to facilitate your handling of their estates:
1. Deeds to burial plots
2. Documents relating to any preplanned or prepaid funeral arrangements, including military discharge papers if either parent was in the armed forces and wishes to be buried in a military cemetery or have an honor guard
3. Wills and any codicils to the wills and a list of the addresses of all of the people named in the will and/or codicil.
4. Trust instruments that name your parents as grantors, trustees and/or beneficiaries
5. Life insurance policies, including the beneficiary designation forms
7. Bank statements and pins for use in ATMs
8. A list of bills that are automatically paid from their bank accounts or charged to their credit card accounts
9. Brokerage statements
10. Statements relating to IRAs, 401(k)s or any similar plans, including the beneficiary designation forms
11. Documents relating to pensions and/or deferred compensation plans
12. Deeds, leases and documents relating to time share properties
13. Loan documents, including mortgages, reverse mortgages, home equity lines, lines of credit (whether your parents are the lenders or the borrowers)
14. Credit card statements
15. Keys to safe deposit boxes and the combination to any safe they may use
16. Pins, security codes and passwords for online accounts, social media accounts and email accounts
17. Account numbers and log-ins for frequent flyer and other rewards programs
18. The names and contact information for their financial advisor, brokerage account manager, insurance agent, accountant and attorney
If your parents are able to gather these documents and provide the information set forth above, handling their estates once they pass should not be overly burdensome. The burden can be further reduced by retaining an attorney with experience in the areas of probate and estate administration. Doing so will ensure that the process goes smoothly and will give you the opportunity to deal with your loss without having to think about what needs to be done.
Linda M. Toga, Esq. provides legal services in the areas of estate planning, probate and estate administration, real estate, small business service and litigation from her East Setauket office.