An After-Death Checklist: Tips for Executors

Here’s what to do when a loved one dies. ( Top Producer )

The days following a loved one’s death are emotional and stressful. If you are the executor or trustee for that person, those days are also filled with legal, financial and business responsibilities. Avoid being overwhelmed by knowing exactly who to contact and what steps to take. 

“A personal representative or trustee should not go it alone,” says Liza Moore, attorney with Foster Swift Collins & Smith in Lansing, Mich. “An attorney will help you understand and comply with the deadlines and requirements that apply in your state.”

When farmers die, you must take certain steps. Farms are ongoing businesses with many contractual obligations, such as contracts with elevators, land leases and operating loans, Moore says. Address any agreements the farmer had at the time of death. 

Lean on trusted professionals to help with this process, suggests Cari Rincker, principal attorney with Rincker Law in Champaign, Ill. “Even if you’re well organized and knowledgeable about probate and estate law, it’s surprisingly hard to anticipate what can go wrong.”

For example, an executor who makes distributions from an estate too soon can get into trouble. Seek professional counsel to avoid even the appearance of impropriety when handling an estate, Rincker says.

While serving as an executor or trustee is stressful and time-consuming (plan on at least a year to settle an estate), it’s also a good catalyst to get your own affairs in order. 

“No one wants to talk about or plan for death,” Moore says. “But proper estate and succession planning are really about planning for life—ensuring loved ones are cared for and the farm lives on and thrives in the next generation.”

Dust off your estate planning documents and ensure everything is up-to-date and relevant. Your future executor will thank you. 

The Steps To Take

Settling an estate includes many tasks and processes. Some duties require a quick turnaround, so immediately contact your lawyer, says Cari Rincker, principal attorney with Rincker Law. To help work through the crucial steps, she provides this checklist.

  • Secure the deceased’s personal property (vehicle, home, business, etc.).
  • Notify the post office.
  • Request at least 20 copies of the death certificate.
  • Notify the Social Security office.
  • Take care of any Medicare details.
  • Contact landlords or tenants.
  • Notify your local USDA or Farm Service Agency office to check on government payments and programs.
  • Stop health insurance and notify relevant insurance companies. Terminate any unneeded policies. You might need to wait until after you’ve “formally” taken over the estate, but you can often start the paperwork.
  • Cancel the deceased’s driver’s license, passport, voter’s registration and club memberships.
  • Close out email and social media accounts and any other websites. 
  • Contact your tax preparer.
  • Schedule a meeting with a qualified probate and trust administration attorney. Here’s what information you need to gather:
    • The deceased’s will and trust. 
    • A list of the deceased’s bills and debts. 
    • A list of the deceased’s financial advisers, insurance agent, tax professional and other advisers.
    • A list of the deceased’s surviving family members, including their contact information. Even if they’re not named in the trust, the attorney will need to know about everyone in the family.


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