Determine how you want to be remembered. When the final bell tolls, as it will for each of us, have the confidence that your house is in order.

One of the most difficult calls that we receive at our office is when a client is looking for help to settle the details of a deceased relative’s estate. Many times, paperwork is simply dropped on them, possibly with a letter containing some basic details, but with no real step-by­step process for handling the affairs of the estate. The process can be overwhelming and people can be frozen and paralyzed by the magnitude of details and tasks that need to be done.

Handling these situations can be a big part of what we do at Valley Oak Wealth Management. We have the expertise to understand the paperwork and, if we were involved in the original estate planning process, we will have the details to help manage the settlement of the estate. Even then, there can be certain forms that we will look at and then make a call to ask, “What are you asking for; what do you really want?”

It is an incredible process and we serve as partners with our clients to help them get through what can understandably be a very difficult and emotional time in their lives.

When we work with our clients to help them develop an estate plan, we do encourage consolidation. If there are multiple stock certificates held with multiple transfer agents, we will work to get this down to a single transfer agent. If there are multiple bank accounts at different banks and other accounts at different financial institutions, we will work to consolidate these to a more manageable number. We want to remove as much of the complexity as possible, while still keeping diversification in the portfolio.

An estate plan is essentially putting together and documenting a collective set of details that will serve to manage a person’s asset base in the event of their incapacitation or death, including the distribution of assets to heirs and the settlement of estate taxes. To have confidence with your estate plan, we recommend your plan includes the following primary components shown:

Bereavement Checklist

Notifications (Immediate):

  • Notify immediate family and close friends
  • Notify attending physician or coroner
  • Notify agent under any power of attorney
  • Notify other members of family and friends
  • Advise Social Security, Medi-Cal, other agencies as appropriate

Burial and Other Immediate Considerations: 

  • Evaluate the emotional impact on the surviving spouse/children/ close relatives/friends; arrange for support
  • Deal with the donation of bodily organs to an “organ bank,” as appropriate
  • Arrange care for dependents
  • Arrange care for pets
  • Evaluate the need for security at Decedent’s residence
  • Cancel or rearrange home deliveries
  • Cancel any further scheduled medical appointments, caregiver services, etc.
  • Have Post Office hold mail (if necessary)
  • Find perishable property (food, plants, etc.), arrange for care or disposal
  • Find and review Decedent’s expressed funeral and burial wishes
  • Prepare and arrange for an obituary
  • Arrange for mortuary, cemetery, burial, cremation, as appropriate
  • Arrange funeral/burial services
  • Keep records of all payments for funeral and other expenses

Location/Investigation of Important Documents & Benefits:

  • Locate safe deposit box(es)
  • Locate wills, codicils, trusts
  • Locate life insurance policies
  • Locate other important documents, relationships, accounts, investments, etc.
  • Locate birth certificates and marriage or civil partnership certificates
  • Locate death certificates of the previous spouse(s) and/or divorce papers showing previous surnames of the deceased
  • Investigate social security benefits
  • Investigate life insurance
  • Investigate union death benefits
  • Investigate veterans burial allowance and other benefits
  • Investigate fraternal organizations
  • Investigate final wages and accrued vacation pay if the decedent was employed at the time of death
  • Investigate employee benefits: death benefits, retirement plans, deferred compensation, medical reimbursements
  • Investigate refunds on insurance or canceled subscriptions
  • Investigate Keogh and IRA accounts
  • Investigate business, partnership, and investment arrangements

Meet With Legal & Financial Professionals:

  • Retain and meet with an attorney regarding estate matters
  • Retain and meet with CPA as to tax and accounting matters
  • Meet with a life insurance agent to collect proceeds or consider options

Notification/Closure/Retitling of Assets & Debts:

  • DO NOT pay any of Decedent’s debts until attorney discusses with family or executor
  • Obtain death certificates
  • Work with attorney and CPA to prepare inventory, list of accounts and list of debts
  • Obtain valuations of assets, as appropriate
  • Locate specified items for distribution according to the decedent’s wishes
  • Create an inventory listing of personal tangible property items
  • Create an inventory listing of donatable items
  • Divide up unspecified tangible property items to heirs
  • Coordinate with appraisers, liquidators, charities, and consignment shops for clearing a property
  • Physical examination of real estate and identification of items needing immediate attention
  • Coordinate any repairs with repair service providers
  • Coordinate ongoing property management or sale
  • Prepare and stage property in for sale
  • Review credit cards and charge accounts, cancel as appropriate
  • Notify charge/credit cards of death and name changes
  • Deal with fire, theft, liability and auto insurance on Decedent’s property
  • Update health, auto, homeowner, and personal property insurance policies including any change of beneficiary(s)
  • Notify bank of death and name changes for checking accounts, savings accounts, safe deposit boxes
  • Notify mortgage holders of death and arrange for name changes on titles and deeds to property
  • Notify mutual funds and/or stocks and bonds of death and name changes
  • Notify trusts and trust funds of death and name changes
  • Change automobile title and licensing
  • Change utilities, telephone, and other household accounts
  • If Trust involved, arrange for any allocations and transfers
  • Arrange for final income tax return and estate tax return, as necessary

Having your documents and final wishes in order is the ultimate gift of generosity. Many older people can suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease and, if they have waited too long to put together an estate plan, it may not reflect their wishes. Having an estate plan in place at a young age (60), is a wise and kind act for all of those who hold you dear in their hearts.