Administering An Estate During A Pandemic
Losing a family member during "normal" times is difficult enough. The heartbreaking task of going through their belongings, gathering their assets, and completing the required court procedures is distressing at the best of times. Covid-19 has made all of this exponentially more difficult. There are several things you will need to consider if you are dealing with the loss of a loved one during a pandemic:
1. Find out where your deceased loved ones' important documents are. You will need to find the original will, request a death certificate, and find any documentation related to assets of the deceased. Some death certificates and other asset information may be found in safety deposit boxes. Many banking institutions during Covid-19 are requiring appointments before you can access the deposit box. You can request a death certificate online through the Register of Deeds in the county where the decedent resided. Documents related to assets can often be found in filing cabinets and drawers in your loved ones' homes.
2. Contact your loved ones' advisors. You should meet with, virtually or by phone, your family members' CPAs, attorneys, financial advisors, insurance agents to determine what assets your loved one had and what kind of estate planning they did.
3. Meet with your attorney. These days, most attorneys are offering Zoom or other video or teleconference options instead of the traditional in person meetings. Your attorney can tell you whether or not you need to go through the probate process or if your loved one planned so well that probate is not necessary.
4. Navigate the court process. If you do find out that there are assets that will need to be distributed, vehicle titles that need to be transferred, or real or personal property that you cannot sell without court permission, then contact the county where the deceased resided to determine what their Covid-19 policies are. Some courts are doing hearings and meetings telephonically or by videoconference.
Probate and transferring assets is extremely complicated and cumbersome without the added layer of a pandemic. Consult an attorney for further advice on how to navigate this process during these trying times.