When the funeral is over, search for the Will of your loved one, secure his or her possessions and contact a lawyer.
If there is a Will, your loved one has nominated someone in his or her Will to be the personal representative for purposes of settling the estate. However, no one becomes the personal representative until the Minnesota Probate Court accepts the nomination.
If there is no Will, Minnesota law sets out procedures for naming someone as a personal representative. Again, court approval is necessary.
Did your loved one reside in their home alone at the time of their death? If so, secure your loved one’s home and possessions so that nothing is removed until it is legally appropriate to do so. Park or store the car in a secure area. Take steps to make the house appear “lived in” to help deter theft. Remove any snow from the driveway and keep the lawn mowed.
The estate may or may not need to go through probate in Minnesota. Probate isn’t avoided by merely having a Will. Rather, probate is required in Minnesota if your loved one owned real estate in his or her name alone, or if your loved one left property valued at more than $50,000 in his or her name alone at death.
The probate process varies in Minnesota, and can be formal or informal, supervised or unsupervised. A lawyer can help determine whether probate is needed, and provide guidance regarding the probate process.
A lawyer will work with the personal representative in determining the amount of your loved one’s assets and liabilities. Creditors should only be paid under the direction of a lawyer. Why? In the event that the estate is considered insolvent, Minnesota state law sets out a priority list for payment, which must be followed. Minnesota law exempts certain assets from the reach of creditors, such as a homestead passing to a surviving spouse or descendants.
Other recommended steps are as follows:
- Obtain approximately 10 certified copies of the death certificate from the funeral director. These will be needed to change the title on real estate held in joint tenancy, to transfer bank and securities accounts, and to send to insurers and others who might be holding benefits payable to the estate or to beneficiaries.
- If the funeral home hasn’t already notified the Social Security Administration of the death, then family members need to do so (1-800-772-1213 or www.ssa.gov). If there is a surviving spouse or other dependents, they may be entitled to survivors’ benefits. Social Security will contact Medicare.
- Notify the Department of Veterans Affairs, if applicable (1-800-827-1000 or www.va.gov)
- If your loved one was receiving a pension, notify the pension plan administrator about the death. Again, check whether survivors are eligible for benefits.
- Close credit card accounts by calling the phone number on the credit card, the monthly statement, or the company’s website. Tell the company that the card holder has died. If there was more than one name on the account, the surviving account holders are responsible for paying the bills. If only the deceased’s name was on the account, only the deceased is usually responsible for the charges. However, Minnesota law states that a surviving spouse is responsible – even if the surviving spouse’s name was not on the account – for “family necessary” charges, which include the medical bills of the deceased.
- Notify the three credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – of the death so that they can watch for abuse.
- Notify the Minnesota Driver and Vehicle Services office of the deceased’s death and cancel the deceased’s driver’s license. Cancellation may help prevent identity theft. (651-297-3298)
- Ask the U.S. Postal Service to forward mail to the personal representative. The mail can provide valuable information as to your loved one’s assets and liabilities.
- Notify life insurance and health insurance companies.
- Notify the insurer of your loved one’s home. If the home will remain vacant for a period, insurance rates likely will increase to cover the insurer’s increased risk of having an issue that could have been limited if someone was living in the house. However, you need to protect the asset.
- Notify creditors of the death.
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