What to do when a loved one passes

The loss of a loved one, whether anticipated or not, is an awful experience accompanied by a variety of emotions — pain, anger, relief, guilt, and anxiety just to name a few. I am not qualified to help you work through a number of those emotions. But, I can help you understand the legal issues you might face, so that at least you can understand and anticipate what is to come as you wrap up your loved one’s financial affairs.

The court process for wrapping up a deceased person’s affairs (paying their final expenses and transferring their property to others) is known as “probate.” Probate has had a lot of negative connotations over the years — delay and cost chief among them. I can report that, in Idaho at least, probate is not nearly as bad as it once was. (By the way, “probate” should not be confused with “taxes” — although taxes might get paid as part of the probate process, skipping probate does not help avoid taxes.)

However, it does require some thought and effort from the survivors. The probate process in general involves a few steps:

  1. A surviving loved one files a petition to initiate the probate process.
  2. The court decides whether the decedent had a will, and if so whether it was valid.
  3. The court appoints a person (often the person filing the petition) to represent the deceased person’s interests and wrap up that person’s affairs.
  4. The representative runs a legal notice in the paper telling any unknown creditors to, in effect, speak now or forever hold their peace.
  5. The representative prepares an inventory of the decedent’s assets at the time of death.
  6. The representative locates known creditors (people to whom the decedent owed money) and pays them what they are legitimately owed.
  7. The representative files tax returns as needed.
  8. The representative locates heirs (people to whom the decedent left property) and distributes their inheritances to them.
  9. The probate is closed.

As you can see, it isn’t the most straightforward process, and it takes some time and leg work. Idaho has a few streamlined processes for dealing with “small” estates, or for dealing with a common situation where the surviving spouse will be the only heir. However, there are very few cases where absolutely no process needs to occur upon death.

A warning: probate must be initiated within three years of the date of death. Missing this deadline and failing to do something to wrap up the decedent’s affairs can result in significantly greater costs and delay down the road when, for example, the surviving spouse decides to sell the house but can’t because the deceased spouse is still a co-owner.

If you have experienced the death of a loved one in the past few years, and you have questions about whether everything has been dealt with from a legal or financial aspect, please do not hesitate to call the Learned Lawyer for help today, at (208) 615-5327.

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