Written by Christine Fletcher, contributor to Forbes Magazine
Administering An Estate During The COVID-19 Crisis: If you lose a loved one during the COVID-19 crisis, not only do you have to mourn your heart wrenching loss, but you must tackle the challenges of administering an estate during a pandemic when everything is infinitely more difficult. Here is what families, executors and fiduciaries need to know.
Gather all estate planning documents. You need to find the original will and trust (if there is one) and obtain an original death certificate. It is a good idea to order more than one original death certificate if you need to liquidate assets such as life insurance and retirement benefits.
Start to gather asset information. Look for any paper statements that come in the mail, or that may be located in files with other important paperwork. You will need date of death values for assets so save monthly statements of financial assets when you receive them. You can also look at prior year income tax returns for asset information. Recommended For You
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Reach out to your loved one’s advisors. This includes her attorney, wealth manager, insurance advisor, accountant, etc. They need to be notified and also may have important information. Many of them will be instrumental in guiding you through this process. Don’t try to do this alone.
“Meet” with your attorney. You can meet with your attorney by video conference or telephone to discuss what needs to be done. He or she can review the important steps that need to be taken such as probate court filings, due dates for estate and income tax filings, how to go about securing assets, and updating insurance providers.
File documents electronically. During this health emergency, many probate courts are allowing documents to be filed electronically. If the will needs to be probated, you may be able to start the probate process with the court now. Check with your attorney as to whether this can be done.
You have nine months to file an estate tax return. The IRS automatically extended estate tax returns that were due on or after April 1, 2020, and before July 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020. However, that will not apply to someone who dies now without further extension. A state estate tax return may also be due depending on the laws of the state where your loved one lived or owned assets.
File income tax returns. If your loved one did not file 2019 income tax returns, the IRS has automatically extended the due date from April 15, 2020 to July 15, 2020. Most states have also extended this year’s April 15 deadline for filing, but check the state laws where your loved one filed returns to be sure. Gather the last three years of income tax returns and any gift tax returns that may have been filed.
Secure assets. If your loved one owned a home, you will need to secure the real estate. Let the insurance company know that the home is vacant, and have someone check on the home. You may also need to change the locks if other people had keys. Discuss with your financial advisor as to whether any brokerage accounts should be liquidated. Begin to inventory all the estate assets and determine if any of them need special attention. For instance, are there any cars, boats or valuable jewelry?
Liquidate appropriate assets. If any assets had beneficiary designations, such as life insurance or retirement funds, you can contact those companies and complete the paperwork to liquidate those assets right away. You will need an original death certificate for each asset to do so.
There is a lot you can do to administer an estate despite the current crisis. In fact, many obligations will not be put on hold because of the crisis. Check with your advisors and make sure you know what needs to be done, what can be done and what can wait.
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