Legal and Financial Matters
- Dispersal of the Deceased’s Property and Possessions
- Contacting Institutions involved with the Deceased’s Finances
- Continuing the Deceased’s Financial Obligations
To begin the probate process, you first need to find out if there is a Last Will & Testament.
Probate is the legal transfer of the decedent’s estate (property) to his or her rightful heirs (beneficiaries).
If a resident of New York State dies without a will, his or her possessions will be inherited according to a formula in the New York “intestacy law.” If there is a will, the executor named in the will is responsible for administrating the will to make sure that the will is carried out as intended. If you are the executor, you need to understand your responsibility and that the process can be long and tiring. Many executors enlist the assistance of an attorney to help them.
Among the executor tasks are:
- apply to appear before probate court
- notify all named beneficiaries
- inventory belongings and have them appraised
- open a checking account in the name of the estate to cover expenses, such as legal fees, funeral expenses and taxes
- file state, city and federal tax returns
- Notify the local Social Security office if the deceased was receiving Social Security benefits. The benefits will end when the person dies. Overpayments will result in a difficult process of repayment. If you are a surviving spouse, ask about your eligibility for increased benefits. Also, check on benefits that any minor children may be entitled to receive. Learn more about how Social Security can help after someone dies.
- Speak with the health insurance company or the deceased’s employer regarding terminating coverage for the deceased while continuing coverage for others covered through the policy.
- If the deceased was working, contact the employer for information about pension plans, credit unions and union death benefits, and any outstanding wages or salaries. You will need a certified copy of the death certificate for each claim.
- Contact the insurance company for all life insurance policies. You will need to provide the policy number and a certified copy of the death certificate and fill out a claim form. If the deceased is listed as the beneficiary on any other policy, arrange to have the name removed.
- Discuss continued procedures with the banks, where the deceased had accounts.
- Return credit cards of the deceased with a certified copy of the death certificate, or notify the credit card company if you, as the survivor, want to retain use of the card.
If you can afford to pay an attorney, contact the Lawyer Referral & Information Service of the Westchester Country Bar Association (914-761-5151) for a recommendation. If you need pro bono (free) legal services, contact the Legal Aid Society of Westchester (914-286-3400) or Legal Services of Hudson Valley (877-574-8529).
If there is no legal next of kin, executor or other responsible party to assist, Westchester County has a process by which a deceased’s remains will be managed through contacting the Public Administrator of Westchester County (914-995-3700).
Make sure that important bills, such as mortgage payments and utility bills, continue to be paid. Child support payments and contract payments may need to continue. Regular payments for persons employed by the deceased may or may not continue.