For each of us, at times in our life, death happens. Whether it’s getting the heart-stopping news that someone we know (and, often, someone we love) has died or even the end of our own lives, each of us will have several brushes with end-of-life issues. Amid of the waves of grief and emotion we often feel during the process, we typically begin to evaluate steps that need to be taken to legally deal with property or other issues related to the deceased person. Though many of us would never dream of making rash decisions in important matters, to some, quickly taking action to settle the estate is a way of trying to resolve grief. Unfortunately, sometimes fast action can produce harmful and unintended consequences. This blog provides a few important guidelines that survivors should follow to safeguard the estate and their loved one’s interests. These simple rules are as follows:
- Avoid Rash Decision Making. No matter what, make yourself a simple deal that you won’t make any decisions (or promises) about money or property for the first week or two (or as long as you’re feeling the waves of emotion). Though it may seem obvious, a great many people make promises to family or friends about the deceased’s assets that they feel they can’t back out of once they come to their senses. To avoid this problem, simply tell anyone who asks that you just want to honor the deceased by keeping the first days after his/her death dedicated to their memory. You can talk “business” later.
- If possible, find and secure important legal documents. In a situation where the deceased had executed a Last Will and Testament, if possible, find and secure the original document. If you are the next of kin or person named as the executor of the estate, it’s important you take possession of the documents as soon as tastefully possible. If you’re the surviving spouse or child of the deceased, hopefully, you will know where your family member kept his/her documents. If so, take possession and put them in a secure place until you can review them with a qualified attorney. If you’re not the surviving family member, if you can hold off on taking possession of the documents you should. If you’re concerned that holding off may in some way prejudice your rights or damage the estate, take possession of the documents as soon as possible or call a qualified probate attorney to discuss the situation and obtain advice.
- Don’t Give Away (or Take) Property. Occasionally, surviving family or friends give away or take an item of property of the deceased as a memento of their relationship. While it is understandable to want a keepsake (or to be generous and give away such keepsakes), the law is clear that the property of the deceased is estate property and subject to the claims of any creditors. While it’s usually safe to take a small item, more expensive items like jewelry, firearms or art may expose the person giving and taking the property to legal action in the future if the deceased’s estate faces any creditor claims. Accordingly, the safest route here is for everyone to hold off on taking such mementos until the personal representative of the estate is confident that no creditor’s claims exist or that they may be satisfied by other assets.
- Consult a Qualified Attorney. Probate law is often more complicated than it appears on the surface. Even in families that genuinely love one another and get along well, conflicts may arise in situations where family members feel that one person is being favored over another or where the parties involved don’t understand the legal requirements of estate administration. To avoid family conflict (or settle conflict) as well as safeguard the estate and parties involved against claims by creditors, you should contact a qualified probate lawyer as soon as it’s practical. If any situation arises where parties involved begin to argue over assets, bringing in a lawyer may help quickly restore peace and resolve the conflict.
Chris Parvin is an Estates and Business attorney at the Dallas, Texas law firm of Parvin Law Group, P.C., where he serves as the Managing Partner. Mr. Parvin is Board Certified in Estate Planning & Probate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and serves as an Adjunct Professor of Law at Texas A&M University School of Law. He serves clients in estate planning and probate matters throughout Texas and may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parvin Law Group, P.C. is a Concierge Law Firm in Dallas, Texas serving clients in the fields of Estates, Probate, Business and Family Law. Most consultations are free of charge.