By: Susan M. Graham, Certified Elder Law Attorney, Senior Edge Legal, Boise, Idaho
Everyone knows about Phase One in estate planning. Phase One means create an estate plan so your wishes are followed when you die or should you become unable to care for yourself.
Lots of families think once there is an estate plan in place, nothing more needs to be done even when someone dies or is incapacitated.
Last week, I met with a son whose widowed mother just died. He was nominated as her successor Trustee under her Trust and also named as her first Personal Representative under her Will. He only came to see me because I sent a letter encouraging him to meet so I could explain the administrative process and answer any questions. He was shocked that he needed to take formal steps to be in charge of his mother’s affairs. He just assumed he could take the papers his mother had signed to the brokerage house and gather up her funds.
Of course, when someone dies their plan needs to be implemented. It is not automatic that bills are paid and titles to assets are transferred to the right people.
A first question: who has the legal authority to act on behalf of the deceased person? If it is the son who was nominated, how would someone who is working with the son know that they are handing the assets to the proper person? If the brokerage firm gives the funds to the wrong person, the firm is liable and will have to reimburse the estate for the lost funds.
Taking the formal steps to give the Trustee or Personal Representative the power to manage the estate is the first of many steps to follow assuring that the estate will be handled properly.