Application for Refusal of Letters

If the equity in the deceased person’s assets is less than is allowed for maintenance and support of the surviving spouse and or unmarried minor child for one year, the spouse or someone on behalf of the minor children can hire Dean Law Office LLC to file an Application for Refusal of Letter.

Steps to Take:
After someone dies, the first steps that should be taken with an eye to the preservation and distribution of assets  are:

Determine if there is a valid will.

Dean Law Office, LLC will review the will to see if it is valid, properly signed, and properly witnessed.

The will must be reviewed to see who is appointed personal representative.  Is the personal representative named, competent and willing to serve?

The will must be reviewed to see if an independently administered estate is permitted by the will.  If an independently administered estate is permissible, a decision needs to be made whether that is the best way to proceed.  If heirs or legatees are known to be unfriendly, if there is a possibility of a will contest or for a number of other reasons, it may be wise to have the estate supervised by the court.

If the will does not provide for an independently administered estate, whether to obtain waivers to proceed with independent administration should be considered. 

The will will be reviewed to see if a bond is waived? If a bond is not waived, is the person named the personal representative bondable?

The will must be reviewed to determine if it is self-proving?  If not, commissions from the witnesses must be obtained.

Are any of the beneficiaries minors or under a disability? If so, guardians and/or conservators will need to be appointed.

Dean Law Office, LLC can determine if it is possible to dispense with administration by means of a refusal of letters or a small estate affidavit?

Debts and assets will be need to be determined.

If there is pending litigation involving the deceased, certain notices must be promptly filed.

If there is no will, it must be determined who will serve as the administrator of the estate, who the heirs are and what percentage of the estate they are entitled to.

Once the concerns set forth above are addressed, the personal representative or administrator needs to be appointed by the court. Although someone may be named in the will as personal representative, that person has no authority to deal with the deceased’s affairs absent appointment by the court as the personal representative.  Individuals can get themselves into trouble, by dividing the household goods, only to find that a will provides a very different distribution or that a debtor has a claim on an asset or the debts are so great that the assets need to be sold.

There are practical matters that do not involve legalities that must be addressed.
If the deceased lived alone, ensure that the newspaper is stopped and other services or home deliveries are cancelled (for example, cable, meals on wheels), that the mail is forwarded (the post office may want someone appointed by the court before it will permit forwarding of the mail), that pets are cared for, that perishables are taken care of, and that credit cards and personal information are safeguarded.  Be sure the decedent’s home and valuables are secured (yes, thieves read the obits).

If the deceased person was a renter, contact the landlord.  When appropriate, discontinue utilities. You do need to ensure the pipes don’t freeze and it may be necessary to leave utilities on to sell the house.

Once a personal representative or administrator is appointed, that person must inventory and safeguard all property.

Look for documents that let you know what assets the deceased person had: bank statements, tax returns, stock brokerage statements, insurance policies, cancelled checks, etc. 

Check that the house and car is adequately insured and that the insurance agent has been informed of the death so the proper insurance is in place, (the personal representative doesn't get to live in the house and doesn’t get to drive the car).

Although probate takes at least six months to finalize, use caution in renting out the house or letting someone live in the house.  Because you allow someone to live in the house, does not mean they will leave the house when requested.

Assemble unpaid bills and discuss with your attorney whether they should be paid.

Check financial institutions for savings accounts, checking accounts, safe deposit boxes, c.d.s, money market accounts, other assets, and loans.

Will Challenges
A will can be challenged in some cases. A will cannot be challenged on the grounds that it is unfair or a person is unhappy he or she did not receive some assets or distribution. A spouse who is left less than 50% can generally challenge the will to receive his or her spousal share. There must be a legal basis for a will challenge. One such basis is that the testator or testatrix (the person whose will is at issue) lacked mental competency at the time the will was drafted and signed. The person challenging the will must show that the testator was not of sound mind. Generally, the witnesses for the will will have their deposition taken. Medical records and a medical expert will generally be necessary. A will can also be challenged on grounds of fraud, coercion or undue influence.

Copyright © Dean Law Office LLC, 2010

Margaret Dean 816-753-3100