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Protecting an estate requires swift action

by Natalia Vander Laan

When dealing with the emotional pain of the loss of a loved one, family members have to also address daunting administrative tasks. Typically, the process of trust administration or the probate of a will can start a few weeks after death; before then, there are certain matters that should be addressed immediately.

The first necessary step is to secure the deceased’s home, vehicles, and personal property. The residence should be locked to prevent unauthorized access. The cars should be parked in the garage and personal property should be safely stored inside the house. No one should be allowed to remove any property until the trust administration or probate is complete. Similarly, access to the deceased’s electronic assets and devices should be secured. Lastly, the deceased’s mail should be collected and safely stored to avoid the risk of unauthorized removal of the mail and potential identity theft. If there is no easy access to the deceased’s mailbox, the post office should be notified to forward the deceased’s mail to an authorized person’s address.

The next step is to locate the deceased’s estate planning documents, such as a trust or will. Once found, these documents should be kept in a safe place. If someone else is named as the successor trustee or executor under the will, the documents should be given to them. The existence or the lack of estate planning documents will determine whether the deceased’s estate will be subject to a probate proceeding.

One of the most commonly unknown responsibilities following the death of a loved one is the duty to lodge the decedent’s will with the court, regardless of whether or not the deceased had a trust. If the deceased left a will, any person in possession of the original will must deliver it within thirty days of the knowledge of death to the clerk of the district court which has jurisdiction. The clerk of the court will keep the original will. With some exceptions, Nevada law does not allow probate of a copy of a will. A person who fails to timely lodge the will may face a potentially significant civil liability.

Regardless of whether the administration of the deceased’s estate will involve a probate proceeding or only a trust administration, at least five, and sometimes as many as ten, certified copies of the death certificate will likely be needed. It usually takes at least one week to receive the death certificates but, recently at times, it has taken up to four weeks, so the death certificates should be ordered as soon as possible. Most institutions will not accept a regular copy and will require a certified copy of the death certificate that will not be returned.

It is also very important to immediately notify the deceased’s banks, financial institutions, and credit card companies that the loved one has passed away. This step will protect against fraud and prevent any unauthorized persons from withdrawing funds or incurring charges on behalf of the deceased.

Any institutions providing benefits to the deceased, such as the Social Security Administration, should be notified immediately to avoid the receipt of unintended checks and deposits that might have to be returned. If a payment was made after the death of a loved one, the Social Security Administration will automatically reverse it once they are notified of the death. If the deceased was a veteran, the Veterans Affairs should also be notified as there might be funeral benefits or survivor benefits available.

It is essential to protect the loved one’s estate in a timely and thorough manner.

Natalia Vander Laan is a Minden attorney and owner of Vander Laan Law Firm