- Find the will. Obviously, it's a lot easier to locate a will if you learned its location while your loved one was still alive. When you do find the will, you may want to contact an attorney who is experienced in settling estates. Even a well-drafted will might offer options that an attorney can help you understand. Although you might want to work with the attorney who drafted the will, you are certainly not required to do so. If you do not have an attorney, ask friends or your financial professional for a referral. If you are the executor, you'll have to start the process of carrying out the will's instructions. If you aren't the executor, contact the person who has been named to this position.
- Inquire about probate. Contact your attorney or the state's probate court clerk to determine if probate is necessary. If it is, the executor should initiate proceedings right away, because probate can be time-consuming.
- List assets. Try to find the paperwork for the deceased's financial assets -- bank accounts, securities, real estate, insurance policies and retirement plans. Take special note of the beneficiary of these assets, the naming of a beneficiary can even supersede instructions on a will.
- Notify relevant agencies. Notify creditors, banks, the Social Security Administration and other entities about the death of your loved one.
- File life insurance claims. An insurer doesn't automatically pay benefits upon the death of the insured. Contact the deceased's insurance company about filing any required insurance claims.
- Open a checking account for the estate. It may seem like a strange task, but if you are the personal representative or executor, you might want to open a checking account in the estate's name. Use this account to pay any bills or deposit funds received while the estate is being settled.
- File tax forms. You may have to file state and federal estate and income tax returns. Your attorney and tax adviser can help you in this matter.