Sending Notices of Death and Related Probate Laws & Procedures
One of an executor’s responsibilities is to keep interested parties, such as beneficiaries, heirs, and creditors, informed of the decedent’s death and the probate process. An executor may also need to protect the estate’s financial interests and obligations by way of negotiating the termination of a lease with a landlord or returning payments to the Social Security Administration. Once a probate case is opened, the executor will have a legal obligation to notify beneficiaries, heirs, and creditors of the status of the case.
Sending Notices of Death
An executor should notify interested parties, such as a decedent’s former employer or their bank, as soon as possible after the death to halt any further interaction, especially detrimental financial interaction. The decedent’s mail, calendar, and other documents may help an executor identify interested parties. In order to interact with certain entities on behalf of the decedent, the executor may be required to provide a copy of the will, their letters of authority, the death certificate, or another document verifying the date of death or the executor’s authority.
Potential Interested Parties
Social Security Administration
Department of Motor Vehicles
U.S. State Department (passport office)
Medicaid or other public benefit offices
Landlord, utility, and subscription companies
Financial institutions and credit reporting agencies
Other family members, friends, and social groups
Notifying Government Agencies
An executor must promptly notify the Social Security Administration of the decedent’s death. If the decedent was receiving Social Security benefits, the executor must return any payments for the month of the decedent’s death onward. The benefit will not be prorated, so the executor must return the entire payment, regardless of the date of death. Executors should note that Social Security payments for a particular month are often sent to a recipient in the following month. For example, an August Social Security payment may be sent on September 2. The payment would not need to be returned if the decedent died in September, but it would if the decedent died in August. If the Social Security payments were directly deposited into a bank account, the executor will need to ask the bank to return the payment (and obtain a receipt). If the payment was instead a check, the executor should return the check in person to the local Social Security office.
The executor should cancel a decedent’s driver’s license or state-issued ID and their passport. They should also inform the state health services agency (Medicaid) if the decedent or their deceased spouse received benefits. If the decedent received any other public benefits, the executor should take care to inform the proper agencies.
An executor should inform the post office of the death and have the decedent’s mail forwarded to them to keep up with any other bills or contacts.
Notifying Private Parties
If the decedent rented their home, the executor should check the lease agreement to determine if it contains any provisions related to the death of the tenant. State law may also provide guidance. The executor should contact the landlord and begin to negotiate the remaining rent and a move-out date. An executor should investigate applicable state law, but generally, even if an estate must continue paying rent until the lease expires, the landlord has an obligation to make a good-faith effort to find a new tenant early.
An executor may also want to cancel some utilities and subscriptions, like a cell phone plan. However, utilities tied to real estate, such as water and electricity, may be more easily transferred to a new owner or tenant than canceled.
Under the Credit CARD Act of 2009, an issuer may not add any annual or late fees to a credit card bill while an estate is being administered.
In order to confirm whether the decedent held any open credit cards or other lines of credit, the executor should obtain a credit report and contact any issuers. They should then close the accounts and destroy all credit cards after rerouting any automatic payments to the estate’s account. Credit card companies may be receptive to refunding or prorating fees and discharging any balance for less than the face value of the debt. If credit cards are held jointly with the decedent, the surviving holder should be able to change the account to their name alone. Reporting the death to credit reporting agencies will also help prevent the fraudulent use of the decedent’s identity.
An executor should notify any organizations to which the decedent belonged or charities to which they contributed. This will allow them to adjust their records and stop sending fundraising requests. They may also refund or prorate membership fees. An executor may contact the Direct Marketing Association to have the decedent’s name removed from commercial mailing lists. Finally, if the decedent had an online presence, the executor should develop a plan for dealing with their digital assets if their wishes in this area were unclear.
Sending Notices of Probate
An executor must send notices of a new probate case to beneficiaries, other heirs, and creditors. The exact timeline for these notices may vary based on state law and court rules, but generally, an executor must publish notice of probate in the local paper soon after the probate case is opened. They must also mail notices to beneficiaries, other heirs, and identifiable creditors. They will also likely be required to file proof with the court that they published and mailed appropriate notices.
In some situations, an executor may be permitted to notify creditors of the probate case later than the deadline for notifying beneficiaries and heirs. Creditors will then receive their own deadline to file claims against the estate. Once this deadline passes, an executor may ask the court to close the probate case. A creditor may have an argument for making a valid claim against the estate after the probate case has been closed if they were not given proper notice of probate.
If the estate is being probated through simplified probate, an executor may not be required to notify creditors before distributing property, depending on state law. The executor may still be required to send creditors a closing statement describing how assets were distributed.
The court may also require the executor to mail a second notice to all beneficiaries and heirs of the final hearing for the estate before the case is closed and file proof of that notice. The court will have a specific rule for the timing of this notice, but it will most likely be after the time for creditors’ claims has passed but before the executor receives permission from the court to distribute the estate’s property.