The largest difference between dying testate (i.e., having a Last Will and Testament) and dying intestate (i.e., having no Last Will and Testament) is this: without a Last Will and Testament showing your wishes as to who should inherit your assets and manage your estate, the laws of your state of residency will determine who receives the bounty.
Once the recipient is determined, however, the process is nearly the same.
When someone dies with a Last Will and Testament, the person named as the Executor (or Personal Representative or Administrator) needs to first schedule an appointment with the Probate Division, located in the Courthouse, of the county in which the loved one resided. The Last Will and Testament and death certificate are required, as well as general information about the decedent and a list of heirs along with their contact information.
Once you’ve met with the Probate Officer and have been qualified as the Executor for the estate of your loved one, the estate needs a federal tax ID number because you cannot use the Social Security Number of a deceased person. With this information, you may now open a bank account in the name of the estate so that the winding up process can begin. The Court additionally requires Notification of the Heirs and/or beneficiaries that the Probate has commenced.
Remember, Probate involves the submission of an Inventory and Accounting as to the estate, which the Commissioner of Accounts must approve. Meticulous record keeping of receipts, copies of checks issued and received, among other records will need to be submitted to the Commissioner of Accounts in support of the Probate.
It can take some time to meet with the Probate Officer and in the meantime there are several actions you can take.
Notify institutions of the death and request a date of death balance. Investment accounts should provide you with a cost basis as of the date of death.
If a surviving spouse jointly owned real property with the decedent, a date of death valuation of real property is needed so the survivor can take a step-up in basis that may be available to them. Regarding the home, if selling or downsizing is an option, consider working with a real estate agent who specializes in retirees or downsizing as they will have an incredible number of resources to make the process far less labor intensive and challenging.
Notify the three credit agencies of the death.