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Wed Mar 31, 2021, 11:42 AM

Dealing with an Estate from a Distance

Here's another episode in the ongoing saga of dealing with my late parents' estate. The process takes longer than I expected, and is rather complicated, since it also involves the sale of their farm property, which was already in escrow when they died. Here are some new tips for dealing with such things from a couple of thousands of miles away:

1. Closing a property sale is complicated, and involves many, many forms that must be completed and signed. My suggestion is to insist that the title company involved with the closing use DocuSign for all forms and that they fill out the forms before sending them to you, wherever possible. It's more work for them, but far less confusing for you. The first batch of forms from the title company I dealt with were delivered to me as PDF files, with much of each form blank. I had to fill them out by hand and then FedEx them back. I had to call the title company many times with questions. Ask the lawyer for your estate any difficult questions you have. Don't have one? Get one. Insist on hourly billings, rather than a flat rate for handling the estate. Any work you can do for yourself won't need an attorney, but there will be times when you do need the attorney. Pay only when you do. Be ready to cringe when you find out how much an attorney's time costs. Mine charges $350/hr. Yikes! I work hard to keep him from working. Google is free, so use it for most questions.

After that, I insisted that the title company fill out all forms as completely as possible and send them to me using DocuSign for completion and signing. Their response was, "OK." No more FedEx. No more nothing. DocuSign simply lets you click to sign and indicates which blank fields need to be filled out. Make the title company do the work. Once you complete the signing, the signed forms are delivered instantly to the title company. You get to save the completed forms as a PDF file and save them for your records. The title company knows what DocuSign is. They just don't like doing the extra work.

2. Banks! What a PITA. The money belongs to the deceased, and then to the heirs or trust, if there is one. Banks act like it is their money. This is why you definitely need an attorney to deal with this aspect, especially. The attorney knows what is required to get those assets to you. You don't. You can help by obtaining the most recent bank statements for the deceased's accounts. Call the banks, explain the situation, and send them death certificates and other requested documents. Ask for the address. Then, give those statements an addresses to your attorney, and leave the rest to him or her. There may be court filings to deal with, and the attorney can handle those. You'll have to pay for his or her services, but trust me: You can't do this on your own if your name is not on the accounts. Be patient. This can take quite some time. It does help if the accounts are listed in a trust document or will, but not much.

3. Insurance companies. Another PITA. When you find life insurance documents, call the company's customer relations phone number. You will get a voice menu. Keep listening. You want the option to report the death of an insured party. You'll need death certificates for this process. You'll have to answer a bunch of questions. The death certificate will have all of that info. If you are a beneficiary listed on the policy, you'll be sent a claim packet. If you're not, it gets more complicated. If any of the beneficiaries is also deceased, you'll have to supply death certificates for those, as well. Each beneficiary must complete a claim form, but only one set of death certificates needs to be sent. Fill out the claim forms carefully, and call the number on the claim form if you have questions. Expect it to take 4-6 weeks to receive the benefits you are qualified to receive. However, in the case of Whole Life policies, you're likely to receive more than the benefit shown on the policy. So, don't ignore any of them. For example, as I reported earlier, my father's VA Life Insurance policy had a total benefit more than 10 times the amount shown on the policy. Just be patient.

4. Pay the deceased's outstanding bills. You should have changed their mailing address to yours, using the USPS Change of Address form. This is really a PITA. You'll need to notify any creditors of the death and get a final statement from the creditor. Just call the customer service number. It can get complicated. if you have questions later, call again. Once you notify them, understand that there is no huge rush to take care of those bills. Just stop the services, freeze the accounts, and pay them when you get access to the assets.

Allow about three to four months to complete all of this stuff. You're going to get annoyed frequently. Take deep breaths. Do one major thing at a time. Try not to stress about it. Things will move far more slowly than you think they should.

Finally, in many ways, it's easier to handle an estate from a distance. Rather than physically going places, you use email and the phone. If a group of forms for a property transaction needs to be notarized, tell the title company to send a Notary Public to you for this purpose. Or, get them notarized at your bank branch.

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Reply Dealing with an Estate from a Distance (Original post)
MineralMan Mar 31 OP
Wicked Blue Mar 31 #1
MineralMan Mar 31 #2

Response to MineralMan (Original post)

Wed Mar 31, 2021, 12:27 PM

1. You could write a book about this nt

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Response to Wicked Blue (Reply #1)

Wed Mar 31, 2021, 12:35 PM

2. I'm sure such books exist.

These days, though, people turn to the Internet and Google for such information, so...

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