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Steps to Handling a Probate in Illinois

Handling the estate of a loved one is a huge responsibility. If you have been nominated executor or trustee, he or she must have thought very highly of you to leave you with this important duty of overseeing his or her end-of-life affairs. However, along with the humbleness you may be experiencing right now, you may also feel stressed out, confused and overwhelmed as you try to figure out the best way to administer your loved one’s estate.

The steps we outline below are among the most important things you will need to know when handling someone’s end-of-life affairs. However, there may be additional steps your family will need to address to properly administer an estate. This will depend on your loved one’s unique circumstances and the type of estate plan he or she had in place at the time of death.


Steps to Handling Your Loved One’s Estate

As you work to make final arraignments after your loved one’s passing, you can also begin the process of securing your loved one’s property, notifying social security, closing out financial accounts and starting the probate or estate administration process. While there is much to do during this difficult time, here are the some helpful steps to take immediately after the loss of a loved one.

I.  Take an Inventory of Property and Important Documents

After a loved one passes, it is often difficult to remember all of the property that he or she owned, as well as all of the paperwork you will need to handle their estate.

Example’s of your loved one’s documents:

  • Certified copies of the decedent’s birth certificate, death certificate, and marriage certificate
  • Divorce decree(s) from all previous marriages
  • Will or trust papers
  • Insurance policies
  • List of assets (house, car, jewelry, etc.)
  • Bank account numbers
  • Social security card or number (for both you and the deceased)
  • Credit card numbers and statements
  • Deeds to any real estate
  • Tax return from the previous year

List of property:

  • Real estate, including those that are business-related or for vacation
  • Stocks and bonds
  • Bank accounts
  • Retirement accounts

Contents of safe deposit box, including jewelry

II.  Notify Social Security

If your loved one was receiving money from Social Security, they will need to be notified upon his or her death. The Social Security Administration can be reached by calling 800.772.1213, or by visiting www.socialsecurity.gov. You should also assume that any payments that are being made via direct deposit will either be stopped by the government or frozen by the bank. Any payments that are received after the date of death will have to be returned.

III. Keep Property Safe from Theft or Vandalism

It’s a good idea to remove any valuables from your loved one’s home and take extra steps to secure the house from theft of vandalism. You should also keep a list of the items removed during this process, just in case you have to locate them or give an account later. Stop all mail coming to the house, and remember that unless you are the surviving spouse or child living at the residence, the post office may require you to provide extra documentation, i.e. letters of office from the probate court.

IV.  Address Outstanding Debt

Many people falsely assume that their loved one’s debts will automatically be forgiven upon their passing. This, unfortunately, is not true and steps will need to be taken to address any outstanding debt still owed to creditors. Freezing the decedent’s bank account may allow more time to pay certain debts from the estate, and it is also a great way to avoid any fraudulent charges associated with identity theft. Notifying all credit cards and canceling them in writing can help you avoid this problem as well.

Finally, you’ll want to gather all of your loved one’s bills and bank statements and speak with an attorney if you feel uncomfortable dealing with the creditors.

V.  Open Claims for Insurance Benefits

As the person handling your loved one’s affairs, you must gather information regarding any policies or accounts that the decedent may have had, including life insurance, health insurance, and private retirement accounts. Be prepared with the policy number and a copy of the death certificate when you call the insurance company to make a claim. The insurance company will then forward the proceeds of the policy to whoever was named beneficiary. If no beneficiary was named, the benefits will flow through the probate estate.

VI.  Research Additional Benefits from Employer

Contact the human resource department at your loved one’s place of employment to find out if they offer death benefits to the spouse or family of the decedent. Occasionally these benefits are made to both current and former employees, so contact all places that your loved one may have worked in the past. Also, be sure to ask about any 401(k) accounts, pensions, or stock benefits.

VII. Contact an Estate Planning Attorney

Administering a loved one’s estate can be costly, time consuming and at times, confusing. Working with an attorney will not only alleviate much of this stress, but will ensure that your loved one’s affairs are handled without mistakes, and that all court and government-mandated deadlines are met. Give yourself, and your family, the peace of mind knowing that your loved one’s wishes are being carried out in the best way possible.

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