Over the next four weeks, I would like to discuss the steps that need to be taken in order to probate a loved one’s estate.

What happens when someone passes away? Well, in addition to having a funeral, there is a lot of legal housekeeping that goes into transferring a deceased person’s property. We’re not talking about dividing up the household goods and their knickknacks - that’s the low hanging fruit.

Most bank accounts and financial institutions typically have something called Payable On Death (POD) set up on their accounts. If you don’t have your accounts set up with POD, go do that now - it makes the probate process a lot easier for your heirs.

What’s the big deal about ‘Payable On Death’?

This instructs the bank (or whomever is in charge of the account) who should automatically receive access to the funds in the event of your death.

If no one was designated in this way for the account, the bank is going to be difficult to work with, and rightfully so.

You trust banks to hold onto your cash and valuables and they take that job very seriously. Financial institutions rarely reveal any information about another person’s account without a court order or power of attorney. Unfortunately, the only way to get one of those is by going to court.

How do you begin handling finances after a loved one has passed away?

I frequently get asked this question.

The first thing we need to know is, “Is there a will?” The second question quickly follows, “Where is it?”

If you don’t know the answer to that second question, here is the likely scenario:

Image titleBy this point you have searched in the house. You’ve pulled out all the drawers and examined everything in that old credenza. You’ve looked everywhere you can think of, but you can’t find the will. Often, there is only one place you haven’t already checked and that is your late loved one’s safety deposit box.

If you’re in this situation, let your lawyer know. The bank won’t let you in there and we’ve already discussed why they shouldn’t.

However, an attorney can actually help you get a court order to let you access the safety deposit box, especially if it is reasonable to believe important documents like a will are likely to be found in there.

If this describes you and you need help talking to the banks, getting into a safety deposit box, or getting a will drawn up for yourself, let me know.

In the second part of this series I will discuss what happens after you do find that will – and what you can do if there isn’t one.



Contact Sung R. Kim, Attorney at Law for Aggressive, Hands-On Representation in Longview, Texas