You hang up the phone, you’re sad to hear your Grandmother passed away, but you’re also a little bit excited by the idea that you might get some money from her will. She lived a good, long life, it wasn’t unexpected. Sure, you’ll miss her amazing chocolate chip cookies, but maybe you can finally buy that silver, 6-speed manual convertible that you’ve been eyeing up. You picture yourself zipping down the expressway to the shore, already having spent money that you haven’t received.
Before you hop in your old car to trade it in for an upgrade, it’s time to pump the brakes. (Is that enough car puns?) You may not see money from your grandmother’s estate for at least nine months, more often it’ll be at least a year and a half.
That probably seems like a long time, especially when a silver, manual convertible is calling your name down on the auto lot.
It might surprise you to learn that other people have a right to your Grandmother’s life earnings before you do – like her husband, your mom or dad, or your aunts and uncles. So, let’s take this one step at a time so you can understand just how long – and why it takes that long – before you receive an inheritance.
Dealing with a Deceased’s Persons Estate
Estate is a fancy word, but here is simply means everything that a person buys, owns, or otherwise accumulates during their life. It includes everything from clothes, cars, and jewelry, to house, land, boats, and bank accounts. When we say everything, we mean all the things.
Here is a basic overview of what must happen BEFORE you get a check:
- Plan a funeral
- Plan a luncheon and/or memorial service
- Find the Will – if it exists
- Figure out if the Will is valid
- Find the executor – If they’re still alive
- Figure out if you’re going to use an attorney or just go it alone
- Once you decide to go it alone, figure out what you have to do next
- Use your favorite multi-colored search engine
- Read a bunch of blog articles, download a lot of freebies, then try to fill out the papers
- Go to your local Surrogates Court or Register of Wills
- Go home because you forgot something
- Find that something
- Go back to the Surrogates Court or Register of Wills with that “something” and FINALLY get the Letters of Administration or Letters Testamentary
- Return to your computer and favorite search engine and figure out what you’re supposed to do
- Grab yourself a big bowl of ice cream and cry because you lost your mom.
This might seem exaggerated, but I’m probably missing a few side-adventures that a person will take. In New Jersey, a person who wants to be the executor of an estate has to wait at least ten days before they can even go to the Surrogate’s Court for the Letters. More often, they wait several months because they just don’t know what they’re supposed to do, or because they can’t find a Will that they just know their parent made.
Now that someone is has been named and is acting as the Executor, it gets even more technical. Being named and taking the oath of the Executor is the easy part. It only gets harder from here.
Here are just a few things that an Executor must do before they can distribute any money to any heirs:
- Find all the bank accounts.
- Find all the life insurance policies.
- Find all the retirement accounts.
- Notify the Social Security Administration.
- Deal with claw backs on pensions or social security payments.
- Pay for funeral services.
- Pay for medical services.
- Deal with creditors of the decedent, including credit card companies, student loans, car loans, mortgages or reverse mortgages, etc.
- List a property for sale. Wait for it to sell.
- Determine if they’ll take a lower amount on the property so they don’t have to clean out the house.
- Clean out the house anyway.
- Appraise jewelry, art, or other collectibles.
- Find that brooch that Aunt Josephine is looking for and swears is hers.
- At least six Months later
- Pay out any debts that need to be paid off.
- Aggregate the balance of everything.
- Review the Will again or do some more internet searches to determine who gets what if there is no Will.
- Pay out any specific gifts made in the Will, like “My jade brooch goes to my somewhat lovely sister Josephine so that she will always be reminded that green was my color.”
- Tally up the balance after paying debtors and any specific gifts.
- Create the final inventory.
- Buy an off the shelf tax software and try to figure out what needs to be done for the estate and inheritance tax.
- Do some more internet searches.
- Schedule free consultations with 12 accountants and muddle your way through the tax return (if needed)
- Decide if they’re going to take the Executor’s Compensation percentage.
- Send checks to the heirs for what the Will said they’re supposed to get.
- Get another bowl of ice cream.
- Field phone calls from people who “just thought their checks would be bigger.”
- Add another scoop of ice cream to the bowl and put phone in moon mode.
So, there you have it, the 50 steps most people go through to handle an estate, and why you’ll need to wait at least nine months before you can be driving your silver, manual convertible to the shore.