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You may wonder where to begin after losing a loved one

It doesn't matter whether you expect the loss of a loved one due to an illness or other chronic condition or if it happens suddenly due to an accident or some undiagnosed medical issues; you still feel the loss when it occurs. In the first days after the death, your mind is preoccupied with grieving, along with organizing and getting through the funeral and burial.

Ordinarily only after that will you turn your attention to dealing with the estate your loved one left behind. Now, you have to figure out what comes next. You may have some vague notion that you will need to open a probate, pay bills and distribute assets, but beyond that, you may not know where or how to begin.

Locating the paperwork you need

In most cases, the first, and perhaps most crucial, task you will need to complete is to locate any and all paperwork and records regarding the estate. Even if the decedent had everything organized at one point, he or she may not have accounted for everything. This means that you will more than likely need to begin looking for the following documentation:

  • Tax returns provide a wealth of information when attempting to locate assets and accounts. Look for the last two years' worth of returns since they should have the most recent and best information available.
  • If he or she was technologically savvy, then you may try starting with the computer. More than likely, you will find a great deal of records and documents on it.
  • You may check the mail as well. Even if most accounts are paperless, not all of them may be.
  • You may want to contact accountants, attorneys or others that your loved one relied on when it came to his or her estate. These individuals either have the information you need or could point you in the right direction.
  • Many people keep paper files and/or a safety deposit box. You may need to search the decedent's home thoroughly to locate any such items.

Once you have all of the documentation and records you can find, you may begin thinking about filing a probate. If you found a will, that could make the process easier. If you cannot find a will, then you will need to petition the court to appoint someone to serve as personal representative of the estate. Now you can find out what steps you will need to take in order to close out the estate.

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The Law Office of Matthew C. Yu
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Torrance, CA 90505

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