When a person dies, the question about what to do with his estate automatically arises. An estate is the property and possessions that a person owns. Sometimes, people plan ahead and create wills that allocate parts of the estate to relatives -- a process known as bequeathing. Other times, however, relatives are left with the responsibility of deciding what to do with a loved one's estate after he passes. If you are in charge of handling a deceased relative's estate, and there is no will, then you'll have to follow the legal process for estate law.
Identify the deceased relative's assets. The assets are the things that he left behind and owns, such as cars, houses, stocks, jewelry or antiques. Include the amount of money that is stashed away in various bank accounts including checking accounts, savings accounts, retirement accounts and mutual funds.
Make a list of the deceased relative's debts. Find out what he owes money on, such as mortgages, car payments, medical bills and credit card debt. All these costs must be settled, or paid, by the assets the deceased person left behind -- or by the surviving relatives, if the estate doesn't cover the costs.
Talk to an estate attorney about becoming an executor. An executor is someone who is legally appointed by the person holding the estate to act as the sole controller of the estate when the person dies. As an executor, you can distribute the assets and make decisions about where the assets should go, since the deceased relative didn't do so in a will. The probate court, which handles estates, will determine who is the most appropriate fit for the role of executor.
Announce the death of the relative to parties that need to know, such as mortgage companies, health insurance companies and credit card companies. Send notification in writing, and provide contact information indicating where they can continue to send bills to settle any debts.
Establish an estate account at the bank. This bank account is where the deceased's money will be transferred to, as well as where you will pay outstanding debts from -- including estate taxes.
Meet with an estate accountant to discuss how much estate taxes are owed on the estate. The taxes must be filed with the IRS and paid through the estate account. The remaining funds -- after paying the estate taxes and settling the deceased's debts -- are distributed to the surviving relatives.