Obtain certified copies of the death certificate. Most people order through the funeral home, but they can also be obtained from the County Health Department of the county where the person died; and also from the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Jacksonville. We can order those for you as well. Florida has 2 types of death certificates: the "Long Form," which includes the cause of death, and the "Short Form," which does not show the cause of death (this was a law passed to protect the privacy of families whose loved one died of HIV). Six of each is normally ample.
Go online and put in a change of address with the USPS, unless you are comfortable that the mail going to the Decedent’s address will make its way promptly to you.
Locate bank statements and check books and brokerage account statements. This is getting harder and harder as people shift to online banking. Their passwords are generally unavailable, so sometimes it’s difficult to ascertain the assets.
Locate the Estate Planning Documents. Last Will and Testament, Trust, Life Insurance Policies
Social Security - normally the Funeral Home handles the initial notification but there may be more to do if there is a surviving spouse or minor or disabled child. If there was an overpayment, be very careful about sending them a check. Normally, they debit the account. If they debit the account and you have sent them a check, you will easily wait six months to get your money back.
Contact Decedent's Employer or former employer for possible group insurance, pension or other benefits.
Contact the Veterans Administration or Civil Service Office of Personnel Management if decedent was a veteran or an active or retired employee of the Civil Service. If the decedent was retired military, also contact the Defense Finance and Accounting Service Casualty Assistance Line to report the death.
Safe Deposit Box. If only the decedent owned the Safe Deposit Box, there is a statute allowing certain individuals to enter the box without probate (mainly to determine what is there, not to remove the contents like jewelry or cash). The bank managers are unfamiliar with this law. We can obtain access for you, in most cases (we send a demand letter citing the law to the bank officer, with a copy to the bank’s general counsel). There are some situations where it requires a Court order.
Try and determine what real estate may have been owned. If there are mortgages, look for a recent statement.
Automobile Title Certificates. This can often be placed in the name of the heirs without any probate. The Tag Office has an affidavit for this purpose. You should obtain legal advice before signing the affidavit.
Locate the last two years Income Tax Returns.
Find recent credit card statements & Medical Bills. Cancel the credit cards.
Obtain the Cremation/ Funeral Bill; if it doesn’t show a zero balance, ask the funeral home for one that does.
With an attorney’s assistance, file a Notice of Trust with the probate clerk. File the original will with probate. The attorney will send a notice with various disclosures to the trust beneficiaries.
Determine if there is insurance on the real estate and the vehicles. Try not to drive the vehicles as it poses a liability problem. Normally it’s best to get the vehicles titled to the heirs promptly (or sold).
The law office or the CPA will obtain a federal tax identification number for the trust. While the “Grantor” was alive, no separate TIN/EIN is involved in most cases, but after the death it is generally required. For very large estates there is an IRS Form 706; in most cases it’s necessary to file a final income tax return (IRS 1040) for the Decedent, and often there is a return for the Trust (IRS Form 1041, usually with a K-1 to the beneficiaries).
With the advice of counsel, open a checking account for the trust.
Pay the debts of the decedent, again with advice of counsel.
Decide whether to distribute real estate or sell it first (may depend on instructions in the Trust). For securities, most often the brokerage will need a new account for the Trust, then when it’s time to distribute to the beneficiaries, they will want the beneficiary to open an account and they will “journal” the funds over.
For real estate, a certified copy of the short form death certificate will be recorded in the public records of the county where the property is located, along with an Affidavit of No Florida Estate Tax Due. The attorney will handle this.
Annually, an accounting is due and must be provided to the beneficiaries.
When it’s time to close the Trust, most of the time it is done by consent - but if there is a difficult beneficiary or special circumstances, a Court order can be obtained.
Russell R. Winer, Attorney-at-Law
520 4th Street North, Suite 102
St Petersburg FL 33701
Toll Free Number: 877-591-6800
1419 W Waters Ave., Ste 116
Tampa, FL 33604
Phone: (813) 933-5700
Fax Toll Free: (866) 774-2476