Estate Settlement Issues & Answers

  1. Gathering Important Documents
  2. Ordering Death Certificates
  3. Bank Accounts and Safety Deposit Boxes
  4. Administration of a Wills
  5. Probate Information
  6. Joint Property May Avoid Probate
  7. Property Tax Ė Widows Exemption
  8. Tax Considerations
  9. Income Tax
  10. Auto and Mobile Home Title Transfers
  11. Insurance Settlements
  12. Social Security Information
  13. Veteranís Administration
  14. Sources of Financial Assistance
  15. Creditor Claims
  16. Glossary of Terms
  17. Disclaimer

Dear Reader,

I think you will find this document extremely helpful in the unpleasant task of processing all the documents left in the death of a loved one. Our site Memories of contains free links and other articles of interest to help you along the way. It is our pleasure to bring them to you. However, this guide is not intended to be a substitute for specific individual tax, legal, or estate settlement advice, as certain of the described considerations will not be the same for every estate. Accordingly, where specific advice is necessary or appropriate, consultation with a competent professional adviser is strongly recommended.


Memories of

A Guide to Settling the Unsettling Details

Wills, probate, administrator, social security benefits, veterans benefits, insurance benefits, joint property, estate taxes and other issues may appear overwhelming after the death of a loved one. Sorting and settling all the details may be confusing because many of the terms are unfamiliar. Memories of is pleased to offer definitions to some new terms along with information and special links we think you will find useful. Please feel free to print this document. This guide is not intended to be a substitute for specific individual tax, legal, or estate settlement advice, as certain of the described considerations will not be the same for every estate. Accordingly, where specific advice is necessary or appropriate, consultation with a competent professional is strongly recommended. Most of all keep in mind that while it is important to take care of all of these activities, itís more important to move slowly at a pace that is comfortable for you during your grieving process.

Memories of is a beautiful on-line memorial site meant to assist you with the grieving process. Sheri Biglin, was only 30 years old when her husband died of brain cancer. She received such tremendous relief with her on-line memorial that she was inspired to start the company that is bringing you this helpful guide. Click here to read Sheriís Story.

Many survivors have found that placing an on-line tribute brings benefits to the all the family and friends who are grieving. Visit our site and see how simple and inexpensive it is to place a custom memorial. But remember, the following information is FREE regardless of whether, or not you visit our site.


Locate as many of the following documents as possible: Wills, Deeds, Bank Books, Stock Certificates, Military Discharge Papers, Social Security Card, Tax Forms, Vehicle and Boat Titles, Insurance Policies, etc.


Before the business and legal issues of the estate can be pursued, it will be necessary to obtain certified copies of the death certificate. You can order them from the Funeral Director or directly from the Registrar of Vital Statistics in your area. It is always better to order a few more than what you think you will need. Most agencies will only accept certified death certificates and not photocopies.

In some cases, there may be a need to obtain a certified copy of the death certificate without a cause of death. These certificates are needed to transfer the title on a house, mobile home, automobile or in some cases for court procedures. You should make this request when ordering the certified copies.


Because banks are subject to both state and federal regulations, procedures can vary greatly from bank to bank and state to state. Some states have been known to automatically freeze joint bank accounts when one of the joint owners dies. To avoid problems, contact your bank directly, to determine the amount of money accessible and learn the procedures for releasing these funds, and to establish a new account for funds received after the death.

At least one joint checking or savings account should be left open for at least six months. This will allow you to deposit any checks that you are entitled to but are in the deceasedís name. For instance, "Insurance Reimbursement Check". This check would be endorsed on the back as follows: "Deposit Only" with the deceasedís name PRINTED underneath, followed by the bank account number.

If after six months you want to take the deceasedís name off the account, the bank will want to have a Certified Copy of the Death Certificate.

A Certified Copy will also be necessary for any accounts that are left "In Trust For" someone. (I.T.F.). Your bank can advise you regarding IRAís or CDís (Certificates of Deposit). Both will need a Certified Copy of the Death Certificate before they are released.

If the safety deposit box is in the sole ownership of the deceased. Banks will require a Certified Copy of the Death Certificate and Letters of Administration to gain access to the contents. On co-owned safety deposit boxes, the rules vary from state to state. Call your attorney or bank for their requirements.


Wills are simple, inexpensive ways to address many estates. But they donít do it all. Here are some things that may not be accomplished in a will.

Named Beneficiaries for Certain Kinds of Property

A will canít be used to leave:


Property left through a will usually must spend several months or a year tied up in probate court before it can be distributed to the people who inherit it.

Probate is a legal process where your named executor goes before a court and does several things:

Probate is not cheap or quick. Because probate requires a hearing in over-burdened courts, the process can tie up property for a year or more. In addition, probate may be expensive. Estate attorneys, who sometimes charge a flat percentage or a high hourly rate, usually handle probate. Their fees and court costs may cost 5% of the estate's value. A will is a very personal document, and may reveal private family and financial issues and concerns. But once it is entered into the court record, it becomes public, and can be inspected by anyone.


When a house or land is owned jointly, is often can be passed to the survivor without probate action. If stocks or bonds are jointly owned, "with right of survivorship", the beneficiary can arrange for the transfer of title by presenting the required documents to the companyís stock transfer agent. However, some forms of joint or community ownership do require probate. An attorney may have to be consulted. Check Memories of for helpful links.


At the same time you file a renewal for Homestead Exemption, send a Certified Copy of the Death Certificate along with the renewal card (which arrives in January in most states). Call the Property Appraiserís office in your county for further information.


Many estate planning techniques have developed in response to a single fact: The federal and state governments may impose a tax when you transfer property to someone else after you die. Some states do not impose an inheritance tax (levied against the heirs) or a state estate tax. Regulations are complex and details are best given by an attorney or tax advisor.

The federal estate tax is imposed on most types of property that a person transfers at death. Many examples of property are obvious: stocks, cash, and real estate. However, the tax can also be imposed in situations in which the deceased does not own the property but can direct where it passes. Determining all of the elements that make up an individual's gross estate or tax purposes is beyond the scope of this report and will be decided in probate. Consider speaking with a Certified Public Accountant to find out what items need to be recorded in your estate tax.


The surviving spouse can still file a joint income tax return in the year the death occurs. In some circumstances they can use the tax advantages the joint rate offers in the following year. You should consult your tax advisor on different options.

If your spouse or you are the personal representative of someone who was filing a quarterly tax return, you should plan on filing the next quarterís return. Send a notification of death along with the return and contact the Internal Revenue Service or your tax advisor for further advise. If the decedent was single, the Personal Representative must file an individual tax return. Send a notification of death along with the return. Any refund would be applied to the deceasedís estate. Contact the Internal Revenue Service or your tax advisor for further advice.


Pertinent documents will need to be taken to your County Tag Agency. Usually the address and phone number will be found on a recent registration, otherwise call your County Courthouse Information Line. Call before making the trip, however, in most states, the following survivors will need to bring the following documents:

Surviving Spouse

Children (may need copy of will)

Personal Representative

Certified Copy of Death Cert.

Certified Copy of Death Cert.

Certified Copy of Death Cert.

Certificate of Title (2 if double wide)

Certificate of Title

Letters of Administration

Completed Transfer Form

Completed Transfer Form*

Certificate of Title

Note: Transfer form available at Tag Office

*must be signed by all Heirs

Completed Transfer Form


Must Purchase New Tag

Must Purchase New Tag


Itís important to note that most death benefits are not sent to survivors automatically, they must be applied for. Of all the applied for settlements, Insurance should be the least complicated procedure. Usually the union administrator benefits department or insurance companyís local office or agent will handle the claim for you. If there is not an agent in your area, check online to see if the company is listed then send them e-mail. Otherwise write them a letter and inquire about benefit payoffs and ask if there are refunds of premiums that may have been prepaid.

If the death resulted from an automobile accident, the automobile insurance policy may include accidental death and medical payment provisions that also can be claimed. If you are having difficulty in locating a company that issued a policy, contact:

The American Council of Life Insurance

Information & Reference Service

1001 Penn Ave., N.W.

Washington, DC 20004

Check Memories of for their helpful link.


Also you may be entitled to death benefits with credit card companies, finance companies, vehicle financing, credit life, Union/Fraternal/Civic mortgage financing, travel clubs, and much more. Be sure to check all paperwork or call the companies direct.

To file for life insurance benefits you will need:

    1. Claim form signed by the beneficiary*
    2. Certified Copy of the Death Certificate
    3. The Life Insurance Policy


Social Security makes cash payments to the survivors of qualified individuals. When the person who has died worked under Social Security, it is important to contact the local Social Security Office about benefits. A long delay in applying can result in the loss of some benefits.

A statement of death is sent to the Social Security Office by the Funeral Home. The Office will review the file to determine the following:

    1. Entitlement to Death Benefits. (Normally $225.00 to the surviving spouse or minor child.)
    2. Establish a new monthly Social Security benefit amount for the survivor. Normally (in the case of a retired couple) if the spouse was receiving less than the deceased, their monthly check will be increased to the high amount.
    3. Determine any other benefits, such as those for surviving children under the age of 18, or any disabilities or back payments.
    4. A death payment to assist in meeting funeral expenses. This applies to the surviving spouse or a minor child only.
    5. Survivor benefits to dependent children.
    6. Medicare benefits to help pay final medical bills if the deceased was 65 years of age or older.

Remember it is most important the survivor(s) contact the Social Security Office and apply for their benefits. A long delay in applying can result in the loss of some benefits. If the surviving spouse has not heard from the social security office in approximately three weeks, it is recommended that they contact the Social Security Office by phone. Check Memories of for their helpful link


Veterans' benefits can include burial in a National Cemetery, a grave marker and a flag for the casket, as well as monetary payments. The benefits will vary according to whether the death was service or non service-related, and whether the deceased was receiving a pension for the V.A., or if the death occurred in a V.A. hospital. Check with your local V.A. office for full details.

Benefits Which May Be Available Include:

    1. Payments from the US Government Life Insurance
    2. A death pension
    3. Dependency and indemnity compensation
    4. A death gratuity from the US Government
    5. An allowance will be awarded to a Veteran, with an honorable discharge
      1. that was receiving a pension from the US Government
      2. whose death was in a V.A. hospital
      3. veterans who have a service disability
    6. Government grave marker. However, the family is responsible for the installation and granite base if required by the cemetery.
    7. Burial in a National Cemetery after proper qualification. However the family is responsible for transportation.

Note: Every veteran, with an honorable discharge, is entitled to an American flag.


The following dates are considered wartime service:

World War I

April 16, 1917 to Nov. 11, 1918

World War II

December 7, 1941 to December 31, 1946

Korean War

June 21, 1950 to January 31, 1955

Viet Nam War

August 5, 1964 to May 7, 1975


Families Need The Following Information to Apply for VA Benefits:

    1. Copy of the veteranís honorable discharge papers. If they canít be located call your local office.
    2. A paid receipt for all funeral and cemetery expenses, including transportation charges.
    3. Next of kin needs to sign the claim forms for:
      1. Flag form
      2. Burial benefit form
      3. Marker form


The deceasedís employer can tell you if payments are due from unpaid wages, unused vacations, illness benefits, group life insurance, disability income benefits, hospital benefits or workerís compensation benefits. Fraternal organizations, lodges, clubs, union welfare funds, and retirement plans may pay some death benefits. Contact these organizations and companies to find out if such benefits exist for you.


Creditors should be notified promptly following a death. If there is to be a delay in meeting debts or installment payments, you may be able to file for extensions. Many creditors are sympathetic to these situations and are willing to grant your requests. If credit insurance or mortgage insurance policies were in force, purchases made on credit (vehicles, furniture, etc.) or the home mortgage may be paid off by the insurance. Ask your lending institution.

In most cases the home is automatically left to the surviving spouse or to the party that shared ownership by JOINT TENANCY WITH RIGHT OF SURVIVOR. In this circumstance nothing has to be done until the property is sold or transferred. But in order to establish clear title in the name of the survivor, we recommend that you have your attorney file a Preliminary Notice and Asset Report Form along with an affidavit of continuous marriage. The State to which the attorney reports will return a Non Tax Certificate and your attorney will record the document with the country in which the property is located. The funeral home may have a copy of this form. If the property were in the deceasedís name alone, the property then would become part of the "Estate" and the attorney handling the Estate would handle the necessary steps.


The following terms will be used as you settle the estate. We think you may find the list useful. It is presented in alphabetical order.

Administrator: The person appointed by the court to manage your estate when you die without leaving a will. Since they are court-appointed, they are required to post a bond as security. They have the same duties as an executor.

Applicable Credit Amount: An estate tax credit based upon the applicable exemption amount used to reduce the tax on transfers of property either during life (gift tax) or at death (estate tax). Created by the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, the applicable credit amount replaced the $192,800 unified credit with a comparable credit that will gradually increase to $345,800 in 2006.

Applicable Exemption Amount: A lifetime estate tax exemption used to calculate the applicable credit amount. Transfer of property up to the applicable exemption amount generally will be exempt from unified tax. The applicable exemption amount will gradually increase from $650,000 in 1999 to $1 million in 2006.

Attorney-in-fact: The individual who is designated in the power of attorney document to act on behalf of another.

Beneficiary: Someone who receives benefits or funds under a will or other contract, such as an insurance policy.

Community Property: Ten states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin) use some form of the community property system to determine the interest of a husband and wife in property acquired during marriage.

Durable Power of Attorney: A written legal document that lets an individual designate another person to act on his or her behalf, even in the event the individual becomes disabled or incapacitated.

Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care: A written legal document that gives another person the authority to act on your behalf with regard to your health care decisions.

Estate: The property or assets you own or have rights to. Also commonly referred to as your possessions.

Estate Tax: A tax imposed at one's death on the transfer of most types of property.

Executor: The person named in your will to manage your estate. This person will collect the property, pay any debt, and distribute your property or assets according to your will.

Fiduciary: A person or institution legally responsible for the management, investment, and distributions of funds.

Grantor: The person who transfers assets into a trust for the benefit of another. See.

Gross Estate: The total property or assets held by an individual as defined for federal estate tax purposes.

Guardian: The person legally entrusted with the care of a minor child.

Incapacity: The lack of ability to act on your own behalf.

Inter vivos: A type of trust created during your lifetime to hold property for the benefit of another.

Intestacy, Intestate: The term applied when an individual dies without a will.

Irrevocable: Indicating something that cannot be changed or terminated.

Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship: A title that can be placed on property that is co-owned. At the death of one of the co-owners, the other will become the sole owner of the property, regardless of what may be conveyed in the will.

Living Trust: A revocable trust established by a grantor during his or her lifetime in which the grantor transfers some or all of his or her property into the trust.

Living Will: A legal document directing that the maker's or signer's life is not to be artificially supported in the event of a terminal illness or accident.

Marital Deduction: A deduction allowing for the unlimited transfer of any or all property from one spouse to the other generally free of estate and gift tax.

Minor Child: A person who has not yet reached the legal age of majority. This age can differ with each state, but generally is between 16 and 18 years. The term does not apply to an emancipated youth.

Power of Appointment: A right given to another in a written instrument, such as a will or trust, that allows the other to decide how to distribute your property. The power of appointment is "general" if it places no restrictions on who the distributees may be. A power is "limited" or "special" if it limits the eventual distributee.

Power of Attorney: A written legal document that gives an individual the authority to act for another.

Probate: The review or testing of a will before a court of law to ensure that it is authentic.

Representative: Someone who is authorized to act on your behalf, such as an executor or a trustee.

State Death or Inheritance Taxes: The tax imposed by the state in which you live and/or where your property is located, if different, on the transfer of that property to another at your death.

Testamentary Trust: A trust that is created upon your death by the terms of your will.

Trust: A written legal instrument created by a grantor during his or her lifetime or at death for the benefit of another.

Trustee: The person named in a trust document who will manage the property owned by the trust and distribute any income according to the document. A trustee can be an individual or a corporate fiduciary.

Unified Credit: An estate tax credit equal to $192,800, which ultimately allows an exemption from tax on property transfers of up to $600,000. The Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 replaced the $192,800 unified credit with the applicable exemption amount and corresponding applicable credit amount.

We sincerely hope this information has been helpful to you.  Best of Luck.

Memories of Me

Disclaimer: This guide is not intended to be a substitute for specific individual tax, legal, or estate settlement advice, as certain of the described considerations will not be the same for every estate. Accordingly, where specific advice is necessary or appropriate, consultation with a competent professional adviser is strongly recommended.