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What to do in event of the death of a family member

Flowers from a funeral after death of loved one.

Here is a short list of things you should do in the event of a family member’s death.

  1. Contact a probate attorney to guide you through the process.
  2. Begin inventorying property that was owned or controlled by the person who passed away. It is best to take a video camera (or your smart phone) and record a video of the items.This will document the condition that things were in at the person’s death. Then you will have a good record of what was there and what was not. This may help avoid later lawsuits claiming that someone has taken items.
  3. Immediately contact a reputable funeral director to assist with the appropriate disposition of the decedent’s remains. Most states have laws that are particular about how the person’s remains are to be handled. You will want to make sure everything is done properly for the benefit of the family, and also in terms of complying with the law.
  4. Order multiple certified copies of the death certificate. As standard practice, it is good to get ten or twelve. The funeral home will most likely order these for you.
  5. Get a copy of the Will if one exists. Find out where the original Will is and make sure it is kept safe. If you can’t find the Will, contact the deceased person’s lawyers or other professional advisors. Lawyers often have a way of sending a request on your behalf to all of the other estate planning lawyers in the local area.
  6. Determine whether probate is necessary or in the best interest of the estate. This should be done with the advice of an attorney. Never assume it is best to avoid probate. As an example, if there are possible creditor issues, it may be better to have a probate to figure out exactly what creditor claims are valid and should be paid.
  7. Locate financial documents, such as annuities, insurance policies, IRAs, retirement accounts and other types of funds that may not be physically located where the person resided. Usually, you can contact employers and banks to determine if they have accounts for the deceased person.
  8. Protect against family disputes by preserving property, and making sure that one family member doesn’t start throwing things away. That could cause other family members to get angry and suspicious. See item number 2 above about taking an inventory of all the personal property.
  9. Obtain an estimate from your attorney as to the costs of administering the estate. Ask for a list of things that need to be done and what you can expect in terms of cost. Get a written agreement with the attorney in relation to administering the estate, and make sure the attorney understands that he or she is to notify you if there is going to be any change from the estimate.

To summarize, the key things to do are (a) to properly document what personal property exists (preferably by making a video of all the property), (b) contact a lawyer and find out what needs to be done, and (c) locate financial documents and the Will.

This short blog post is not intended as a substitute for actually talking to a probate attorney. If you have experienced a death in your family, please contact us. We are one of the most experienced law firms locally in terms of administering probate estates, and our staff is committed to providing efficient and caring service.

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How to Transfer Your Car to Your Trust

vintage car driving fast through desert

If you live in Arizona and own a vehicle, there’s now a convenient way to transfer your car to your trust. Previously, you had two bad choices. You could have kept the car outside the trust, and then let the family fight over how to transfer it. Sometimes you would have to open a probate. OR, you could put the car in your trust and be forced to deal with an MVD bureaucracy that was not intended to handle trusts.

Where to find the form

A.R.S. §28-2055 creates a method of transferring vehicle titles upon death. This is similar to deeds for real property and pay on death / transfer on death titling for personal property. As a result, the Arizona Department of Transportation created a Beneficiary Designation form (for vehicle title transfer upon death). This form allows a vehicle owner to transfer a vehicle on his or her death by designating one or more beneficiaries.

Filling Out the Beneficiary Designation Form To Transfer Your Vehicle To Your Trust

First: Enter the Vehicle Identification Number and the year and make of your vehicle. This information should be on the vehicle’s title.

Second: Determine what person(s) the vehicle should be transferred to upon death. Write each person’s full legal name under ‘Beneficiary Full Legal Name’. If you know the person’s date of birth you should enter it. This will help eliminate any potential confusion. If you want to leave the vehicle to only one person, leave the ‘Legal Status’ box blank. If you are leaving the vehicle to two or more people, you will need to decide how you want the beneficiaries to own your vehicle. Here are the options:

  • Name your trust: If you have a trust, talk to your estate planning attorney about whether to transfer the vehicle to your trust. This would make sense if, for example, the vehicle has significant value (such as more than a few thousand dollars), or there is a chance that the beneficiaries will be minors.
  • Joint Tenants: Each person has full authority to transfer ownership of the vehicle or take out a loan on the vehicle. The names on the title will read: Bob Smith or Mary Green. If this is what you want, write OR in the ‘Legal Status’ box next to each beneficiary’s name. (NOTE: If you want to ensure that one owner doesn’t just take and sell the car, this is probably not the best solution.)
  • Tenancy in Common: The signatures of each party will be required to transfer ownership of the vehicle or take out a loan on the vehicle. If one party dies, the deceased party’s interest must be handled with their estate. The names on the title will read: Bill Henry and Mary Green. If this is what you want, write AND in the ‘Legal Status’ box next to each beneficiary’s name. (NOTE: This should rarely be used because it puts the two owners in the position of having to make joint decisions about everything. What happens if the two new owners don’t get along? That could be a nightmare.)
  • Joint Tenants with Right of Survivorship: The signatures of each party will be required to transfer ownership of the vehicle or take out a loan on the vehicle. If one party dies, upon proof of death, the surviving party may sign alone. The names on the title will read: Bob Smith and/or Mary Green. If this is what you want, write AND/OR in the ‘Legal Status’ box next to each beneficiary’s name. (NOTE: This is slightly better than the previous two methods. But one owner could still either refuse to cooperate.)

Third: Once you have finished filling in this information, stop: do not sign the form. Take the form with your title to your local MVD office. You must sign the form in front of the MVD agent and have the MVD agent notarize your signature. (You can alternatively sign in front of a regular notary.) Give the completed form and your title to the MVD agent along with the $4 fee. The MVD agent will give you a new title with the beneficiary information on it. Your vehicle will now be transferred, probate-free, to the person(s) you named upon death.

If you couldn’t tell, my preference would be to either name one person to inherit the car, or name your trust. If your vehicle has any significant value, I’d suggest naming the trust. However, I’m not giving legal advice here. I don’t know your particular situation. If you want legal advice, please make an appointment by calling 602-443-4888, or contacting us here.