What are the legal steps to take to manage a revocable trust after someone has died? The standard and accurate legal answer is, "It depends...".

When someone dies, assets either transfer by title to other people, by contract to other people, or through a court process called probate. Those are really the only choices.

Therefore, when someone dies, we need to know how are things titled and what to the contracts say. This is where “The rubber meets the road” for estate planning.

If assets are titled in the name of a trust, then the trust controls. If not, a paid-on-death beneficiary designation might be the answer. If not, then a will, through probate. If not, then the law of the state where the decedent lived (his or her domicile) will control.

After someone dies the process of administering the estate, whether a probate estate or revocable trust, is similar to walking into the middle of a movie. Figuring out what assets exist, locating where there are, ascertaining liabilities, and discovering what issues are pending when someone passes is a challenge.

A common misconception is that, with a living trust, there is little to no work to do when someone dies. However, whoever is in charge will have some work to do, regardless of whether assets are in a trust or going through court, including but not limited to:

  • Arranging funeral services
  • Notifying next of kin
  • Discovering controlling documents
  • Finding the assets
  • Valuing the assets
  • Obtaining control over assets
  • Verifying insurances
  • Reviewing debts
  • Filing the Last Will and Testament in the Register of Wills
  • Filing income and estate tax returns
  • Reporting assets to beneficiaries
  • Distributing those assets

We offer our client’s successor trustees and executors a complimentary consultation at death or disability to offer guidance in the steps to take during these difficult times.

While we don’t need to see someone immediately after the death of a client, we strongly urge that you do not move valuable assets, close accounts, or pay off debts until speaking with us.