I met my colleague Eileen Moynahan at a National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals (NAPO) meeting and immediately liked her niche, “estate-administration organizing.” After reading her book, I asked her to be a guest writer for my newsletter. So, read on for some awesome tips to take some of the fear out of estate paperwork after a loved one passes…

Retailers tell us that Halloween is their second most-profitable holiday, with Christmas ranking number one.  I find it interesting that so many Americans will spend hours decorating their homes and putting up gruesome yard décor to include coffins and mummies… yet they shrink in horror from discussing anything to do with a real death!

You know what’s reallllly scary?  Overpaying for estate services!  I heartily recommend hiring an estate attorney to handle legal matters after a loved one passes away.  However, don’t task a J.D. with administrative affairs that, with time and attention, you can handle on your own.  Save the attorney fees for preparing estate filings and resolving legal disputes.

Follow these ten tips to administer an estate while saving money and increasing appreciation for your loved one:

  1. Consider your work as executor of the estate to be an act of service and love.  This flips the script from burden to opportunity.
  2. Respect your loved one’s legacy, both financial and personal.  Yes, do collect the assets to the best of your ability, but also pay attention to their sentimental legacy: photos, letters, and other personal artifacts.
  3. Documents are your friends when administering an estate.  Overwhelmed by the paper you find in your loved one’s home?  Sort and file relevant documents to act upon; shred or recycle generic materials.
  4. Change your loved one’s mailing address to your own, and open every piece that comes in.  End-of-year tax documents are especially useful in identifying assets that you might not otherwise know about.
  5. Every financial document is a possible lead to assets.  Even older paperwork (stock certificates, out-of-state deeds, tax statements) are “clues” to financial holdings.
  6. Important information can be found on your loved one’s phone and computer.  If you can access these, look for further financial leads.  With the increase in electronic banking and investing, not all assets leave a paper trail.
  7. Make the phone calls and write the letters to collect your loved one’s assets; no need to task the attorney.  Create a template letter and simply customize it for each financial institution.
  8. Do not distribute any assets without first conferring with your estate attorney.  Distribution to named beneficiaries can wait until later in the estate process.
  9. With that being said, be transparent with beneficiaries.  Keeping them informed decreases questions and infighting.
  10. Retain estate files for the requisite number of years for tax purposes.  Most experts recommend 7 years after the estate has closed, not after your loved one’s death.

See, not so scary after all!  This is your chance to show your love, learn more about the deceased, and close the estate in a timely fashion.  Your loved one deserves nothing less.

Eileen Moynahan is the owner of Legacy Estate Organizing, LLC, an estate-administration business that partners with executors and attorneys to identify and collect assets after a loved one passes away.  Her book, “After the Funeral: A Practical Memoir for Administering Your Loved One’s Estate,” was published in February 2019.  She can be reached at eileen@legacyestateorganizing.com.