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1. Complete a will or revocable trust. A revocable trust will enable your estate to avoid probate yet will require you to transfer ownership of your assets to the trust. This may be time consuming but it can also ease the administration of your estate upon your death. Money spent now may greatly reduce costs and frustrations for your family upon death.

2. If you already have a revocable trust, work with an advisor to verify that all assets intended to be placed in your trust are in fact in your trust. He or she will also advise you on beneficiary designations for retirement accounts and life insurance policies.

3. If your estate is of a certain size, i.e. greater than $675,000 in the year 2000, you may want estate planning to avoid the pitfalls of the estate tax. See an estate-planning attorney to advise you of your options.

4. Prepare powers of attorney, both financial and medical. These will enable your family to assist you when you no longer can assist yourself An attorney can assist you with these documents.

5. Prepare living wills. Living Wills are written directives to your doctor instructing him or her to remove all life supporting procedures if you are comatose or in a vegetative state. An attorney can assist you with these documents.

6. Call your insurance agent and make sure your life insurance policies are in order.

7. For those families that are in need of liquidity, there are a couple of options. You may consider the sale of an existing life insurance policy, the reverse finance of your home, which pays you the equity on the house, or greater withdrawals from you retirement accounts. Since these are very complex, visit with a professional on the advantages and disadvantages of these and other methods to create liquidity.

8. Organize your assets and bills. To avoid the time and difficulty for your family of determining what assets you own and what bills you owe, consider placing statements and bills in a folder. You will likely want to create a summary to explain the statements and bills to your family. This will assist them in organizing your affairs upon death.

9. Make a list of all advisors, attorneys, accountants, insurance agents and other professionals to be contacted by your family to settle your affairs upon your death.
10. Make sure your family knows where all of your records are and where the key to your safe deposite box is kept.

11. Go to a funeral home and make your request for burial or cremation. States usually have laws regulating these choices.

12. A great resource for forms and assistance is the local Hospice organizations, community legal service centers for low-income individuals, libraries, and free seminars by attorneys and other estate planning professionals.

Below you will find a typical list of steps necessary to resolve the legal matters that arise after a person passes away. While each individual case will vary, and every state has its own requirements, this will provide a broad guideline to assist the individual dealing with the loss of a loved one.

1. Nothing has to be done immediately. Take your time to grieve. You will find that most events are not emergencies and if they are, they are sometimes reversible. Typically, you have 6 to 9 months before you have to seriously look at the legal issues of an estate.

2. Find a friend, family member or reliable professional to assist you with those financial and legal decisions. Remember that nothing has to be done immediately.

3. Unfortunately, you will be contacted by salespeople, attempting to sell you all types of items they claim you will "need." This is not the time to make those decisions.

4. While Social Security needs to be notified, funeral homes often now notify the agency. Eventually you will need to contact the Administration to set up your own plan. There is no rush but they should be contacted as soon as you are ready.

From Kevin P. McFadden, JD, Scottsdale, AZ