The death of someone near and dear can be a stressful time. Your life is disrupted by the loss and your grief. Often, it can be a confusing time, both emotionally and logistically.
Who has what responsibilities? Here’s a quick look at different roles involved at someone’s death:
Executor—The Executor or Executrix, also known as the Personal Representative, has the duty of safeguarding and collecting and managing assets which the decedent owned at death, in accordance with the Will. He or she will make distributions as directed in the Will. The Executor also has responsibility for filing the estate tax return, if necessary.
Trustee—The Trustee is the person in charge of managing and distributing any assets held under a Trust. The decedent may have had one or more trusts that he or she established during his lifetime. The Trustee must follow the Trust document, which provides the terms by which the assets are to be held and distributed. Often, the Trustee must work with the Executor for a coordination of efforts regarding assets.
Agent under Property Power of Attorney—The person who was acting under the Property Power of Attorney, called the Agent, no longer has authority once the Principal has died.
Agent under Health Care Power of Attorney—The Agent may have authority to allow for organ donation or cremation.
Guardian—A guardian is a person nominated in the Will to care for the decedent’s minor children. While it is up to the court to decide who will get custody of the children, the decedent’s choice of guardian will be given due weight.
The first step, of course, is for the family to make any funeral arrangements. Immediately after death, the Executor or Trustee will need to make sure any assets are safe. For example, if the decedent lived alone, it would be wise to change the locks on the door to prevent someone with an errant key from gaining access.
Next, the Executor / Trustee should consult with an attorney who focuses on estate planning and administration. The attorney will help guide you through the next steps to be taken, which will include gathering the assets and following the terms of the documents. This step need not be done immediately, but an appointment should be made within two weeks after the death occurs. In the interim, it is important that you do not re-title any assets of the decedent and that you make no distributions to any beneficiary, including yourself.
The attorney will help guide you through the next steps, which will be unique to your circumstances. The attorney will help you circumnavigate the many potential pitfalls and achieve the best result possible.
Mr. Ronald “Chip” Morrison, Jr. is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys and has been engaged in Louisiana trusts and estate law for the last 16 years. Our firm serves clients throughout southern Louisiana. For more information or to attend an upcoming seminar, please call our office at (504) 831-2348 or contact us through our website.