My parent just died, where do I start? Part 2

Now that you have ascertained and inventoried all of the real and personal property owned by your parent at the time of his or her death (see Part 1 of this series), you can determine what steps must be taken to properly transfer the property in accordance with the wish of your deceased loved one.

Most real or personal property can be classified in two general categories. The first is non-probate assets.  As the name suggests, these assets can be transferred or distributed outside of the probate process.  The most common type of property within this category consist of assets with properly designated survivor beneficiaries.  This would include savings and checking accounts with a designated payee on death beneficiary such as a spouse or child, as well as investment accounts such as IRA’s and Mutual Funds with a designated transfer on death beneficiary.  Life insurance policies are another form of personal property that will transfer free of probate to the individual named as the survivor beneficiary.  In addition to these personal property assets some properly titled real property can transfer free of probate. The most common type of ownership that will allow real property to transfer outside of probate is as joint tenants with right of survivorship (JTWROS). A quick review of the deed will indicate if the property is owned this way, and if it is, the deceased parent’s interest in the property will transfer to the surviving owner free of probate. With many of the assets described above it is as simple as providing the bank or financial institution a copy of the deceased parent’s death certificate to have the assets transferred to the new owner.

Non-probate assets also include property that is properly transferred and owned by a Revocable Living Trust.  Any property held in a Revocable Living Trust will be distributed out of the Revocable Living Trust without the necessity of probate.  However, it is important to determine if the assets purported to be in the Revocable Living Trust have actually been properly transferred to the Revocable Living Trust, if this has not been done the assets will still need to be transferred through the probate process.


Learn more about Trusts at our Estate Planning information page.

Logically any assets not considered to be non-probate assets will be probate assets.  A good example of probate assets would be bank accounts or other financial accounts or instruments without a proper survivor beneficiary designated, or if the estate of the deceased parent is named as the beneficiary.  In addition, this would include real property owned individually or with another individual as tenants in common.  Again, a simple review of the deed will indicate how the real property is owned.

Once the type of ownership of each asset is determined it will become apparent if a probate will be needed to transfer the personal and real property to the proper beneficiaries. The probate process itself will be discussed in “My parent just died, where do I start? Part 3”.

As you inventory the assets of your deceased parent and determine the nature of how each asset is owned for the purposes of opening a probate or not, it is important to manage certain day-to-day issues that may be overlooked. This would include forwarding mail, locating and cancelling credit cards, maintaining personal or real property pending a non-probate transfer or the ultimate sale or distribution of the property following the probate process.  In addition, if your deceased parent had any recurring bills or direct withdrawals that are no longer needed following his or her death you will need to contact these institutions and have that arrangement terminated. On a similar note, any type of deferred compensation arrangement such as pension or social security payments which expressly terminate on death will need to be terminated so as to avoid having to pay any post death distributions back to the sponsor or administrators of the deferred compensation arrangements. Lastly, you should locate and terminate any social media pages for the deceased parent in order to avoid any sort of unwanted access to or use of the deceased parent’s page.

Hannah St. Peter

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