Questions on Handling Your Loved Ones’s Estate – A Probate Guide

When your loved one dies, it suddenly feels like everyone wants you to decide something, and they are all big decisions. Contacting a local probate and estates attorney in Carlsbad, California can help you with a number of these issues.

The following is a list of commonly-encountered decisions that must be made after the death of your loved one in handling their estate, broken down into categories of general and specific areas:



• Who has the authority to act on behalf of your deceased loved one and his or her estate?

• How do you get access to your loved one’s financial assets, such as bank accounts, investment accounts and the like?

• Do you have to pay your deceased loved one’s debts, such as mortgage and credit cards?

• Who gets to live in our deceased loved one’s house?

• Who pays the mortgage and other expenses?

• How do we transfer ownership of the house? The car or other assets of the estate?



• Did your loved one want his or her organs donated? Hospitals give you only a few hours to deal with organ donation, and less than 24 hours to dispose of the body.

• Which mortuary should you use? Hospitals typically want the body removed as quickly as possible.

• How should you move the body? Only a licensed mortuary, hospital or law enforcement may legally remove the body.

• Did your loved one wish to be cremated or buried? Closed or open casket? Funeral homes need to know very quickly.

• Do you need to inform the Social Security Administration about your loved one’s death?

• How many copies of your loved one’s death certificate do you need? Is a dozen or two dozen enough?

• Who pays for the funeral home?

• Does your loved one already have an obituary prepared? Should you write one?


Families in Carlsbad, California and all of North County San Diego may be facing these, and other important decisions following your loved one’s death. Contacting a local Probate and Estates Lawyer can help you with the legal ramifications of handling your loved one’s estate.

Executor Checklist: Immediately Following a Death – For Oceanside, CA Probate Clients

If you have recently lost a loved one, you probably feel overwhelmed with the amount of things that need to be done to settle his or her affairs. During your time of deep grief, you are most likely wondering whether a probate must be opened and how you can close out accounts and pay bills. Before thinking about probate and the financial affairs of your loved one, there are a number of important tasks that must be handled or discussed amongst family members.

Willis Legal Team has compiled the following short checklist for Oceanside, California executors to following immediately after the death of a loved one:

  • 1. Contact your loved one’s family and friends;
  • 2. Identify your loved one’s important advisors, such as lawyers, accountants, investment and financial advisors;
  • 3. Begin certifying your loved one’s death;
  • 4. If your loved one is an organ donor, follow through with those arrangements;
  • 5. Is an autopsy necessary?;
  • 6. If your loved one’s remains must be shipped elsewhere, arrange for the shipping;
  • 7. Arrange for care of your loved one’s children, pets, home and yard;
  • 8. File a change-of-address form with the Post Office;
  • 9. Order two to three dozen original copies of the death certificate;
  • 10. Burial or cremation of your loved one’s remains;
  • 11. Purchase a grave site, if necessary;
  • 12. Protect your loved one’s home by arranging for someone to house-sit, or do it yourself.

The Willis Legal Team comprises probate and estates attorneys Graham Willis, Esq. and Rick Willis, Esq. We are professional estate lawyers assisting Oceanside, CA and all of San Diego County in probate and estate administrations.

Probate Guide: Locating Your Loved One’s Records & Assets – For Carlsbad & Oceanside Executors

After the loss of a loved one, you may need to determine whether a probate must be opened in court or whether a non-probate option is available to transfer your the decedent’s assets to the rightful beneficiaries. Doing so will require that you discover and inventory all of your loved one’s assets owned at the time of their death. You will also need to close out accounts and provide notices to various financial and governmental entities. To perform these important tasks, you will need to locate a number of important documents and records providing vital information concerning your loved one’s life. These records may be found in your loved one’s desk drawers, file cabinets, fire-proof box, safe, or safe-deposit box.

Below you will find a list of important records to locate and some tips for discovering your loved one’s assets:

Records to Locate: 

  • Social Security Records
  • Tax Returns
  • W-2 Forms or 1099 Forms (showing wages)
  • Online Investment Accounts
  • Investment Records
  • Life Insurance Policies and Premium Payment Records
  • Annuity Policies
  • Bank Statements
  • Brokerage Account Statements
  • Business Agreements: LLCs, Partnerships, Stock Certificates
  • Checkbooks
  • Child Support Documents
  • Credit Card Statements
  • Divorce (including property settlement agreements) and Prenuptial Agreements
  • Health Insurance Policies
  • Immigration and Citizenship Documents
  • Birth Certificates
  • Military Service Records
  • Pension Records
  • Real Estate Deeds
  • Registration Papers for Vehicles or Boats
  • Retirement Account Statements
  • Worker’s Compensation or Disability Claims


Finding a Person’s Assets:

Tip #1  Go through the person’s desk, files, attic, and basement;

Tip # 2  If the person had a safe-deposit box, find the key, and with a death certificate, you should be able to at least see what’s inside;

Tip #3  Ask family members and close friends where the person kept important documents;

Tip #4  Check the person’s federal income tax Form 1040, which lists interests and dividends and can point you to their sources, where are assets;

Tip #5  Check the person’s computer;

Tip #6  Check e-mail records for correspondence from financial institutions;

Tip #7  Your last resort is to wait until the first quarter of the year following the death, when 1099s are mailed.

What Assets are Included in a Probate Estate? – For Carlsbad, California Clients

If you have recently lost a loved one in San Diego County, you may be wondering how to transfer his or her assets to the rightful inheritors. The answer usually depends on whether or not the asset must go through the Probate court process or not. Below is a short and helpful guide to assets that are usually excluded from California Probate administration, and which assets usually must go through this formal process.

When determining the value of an estate to see if Probate is required, many valuable assets can be excluded:

  • The person’s primary residence, if going to the surviving spouse
  • Wages owed to the decedent
  • Community property, if going to the surviving spouse
  • Property owned in joint tenancy form of ownership
  • Assets owned by a trust (such as a revocable living trust, spousal trust, A/B trust)
  • Pensions and individual retirement accounts (IRAs) with specific designation of beneficiaries
  • Motor vehicles
  • Property located outside the state where the person lived (but Probate may be required in the state or country)

Even if an estate is large enough to require Probate, many of its assets can be distributed without Probate, such as:

  • Property property of small monetary value, like dishes, TVs, and the like
  • Joint accounts (checking, savings, investment)
  • Final salary or wages
  • Life insurance proceeds with a named beneficiary(ies)
  • Individual retirement accounts – IRAs, 401(k)s, and similar accounts with a named beneficiary(ies)
  • Pension plan distributions
  • Employee death benefits – check with employer
  • Property held by revocable living trusts
  • Community property
  • Property held in joint tenancy
  • S. savings bonds
  • Property registered as “transfer-on-death” (TOD) or “pay-on-death” (POD)

Executor Checklist: Financial Issues for Carlsbad Probate Attorney Clients

An Executor is a person handling the affairs of a deceased person during the probate process in California. As Carlsbad Probate Attorneys, our clients often ask up what are the responsibilities of a Personal Representative handling their loved one’s estate. An Executor must handle paying debts and taxes of the estate and distributing assets to the heirs or beneficiaries, in addition to handling a wide-range of further financial responsibilities. Willis Legal Team has complied as short checklist of some of these financial issues that Carlsbad, CA Executors must handle while dealing with the extremely difficult loss of a loved one:

(Please use this as a general guide for your information and help, and not as legal advice specific to your situation)

• Hire a Probate and Estates Lawyer

• Hire an Estate Accountant

• Pay funeral and memorial expenses

• Collect final wages and other payments for your loved one

• Stop any Social Security payments

• Collect Social Security death benefits and survivor benefits

• Investigate pension benefits

• Investigate Veterans and other federal benefits

• Apply for EIN with the IRS

• Notify IRS that you are Executor or Trustee of your loved one’s estate

• Cancel your loved one’s insurance policies

• Open an estate checking account

• Find your loved one’s will and/or trust

• Collect information on your loved one’s assets

• Find out whether a formal Probate in court is necessary (Contact a local Probate and Estates Attorney)

• Find what debts your loved one had

• Determine the estate’s value and net value

• Find out whether family members or others contest your loved one’s will or estate

• Distribute assets through Probate or outside of Probate if possible (Contact an Estates Lawyer)

• Claim assets using a simple Probate affidavit if possible

• Transfer estate property of your loved one to rightful beneficiaries

Willis Legal Team is the law firm of Carlsbad, California Probate Attorneys Graham Willis, Esq. and Rick Willis, Esq. Contact our firm today for a free consultation on your probate or trust legal matter.