There is a great deal of sadness when we lose a loved one. I’ve experienced this in my family and it takes time to gain your bearings. Eventually, you’ll need to address the issues surrounding the administration of the family’s trust.

Here is a brief list of items that will help you or the Successor Trustee navigate the administration of a trust. Of course there is no way a thorough explanation can be provided for trust administration. It is simply a starting point. I would highly recommend obtaining an attorney who focuses on trust and estates to help guide you.


  1. Locate the Trust, Will, Real Estate Papers, Mortgages, Credit Card Statements, Investment Accounts and other important papers of the decedent. This will be an ongoing process and could take several weeks. Set-up a filing system if the decedent didn’t have one.
  2. Contact either the attorney who prepared the estate planning documents or find a trust and estates attorney to help you in handling the decedent’s affairs. Make an appointment immediately. This meeting is very important. A review of the estate plan and documents      you’ve assembled will be vital to dealing with state and federal tax issues. If probate is needed, the attorney will be able to determine the steps needed to move forward.
  3. If the decedent was still employed you’ll need to get in touch with the HR department of the company. They will be able to assist you in garner any benefits attributed to the decedent. You’ll need the decedent’s date of birth, date of death, Social Security Number,      current residence to begin with.
  4. If decedent was eligible for Medicare, notify the local program office and provide the same information as in Step #3
  5. If you found life insurance policies you’ll need to notify of decedent’s death. Give the same information as in Step # 3. Make sure you ask for any forms that are required to process the claim. Review with the attorney issues of payment plans or lump sum benefits.
  6. Notify the decedent’s Social Security office of the death. You may need to have a surviving family member go directly to the office and this also may help expedite the claims process.  Google Social Security Administration to find the local office.
  7. If emergency cash is needed, you may be able to obtain a cash advance life insurance benefits.
  8. If decedent was ever in the military service, notify the Veterans’ Administration. Surviving. Have the information in item #3 available and also any military documents. Relatives may be eligible for death or disability benefits.
  9. You should keep a diary of actions you’ve taken as well as money you or the family may have spent. There may be some tax      deductions available from these expenses. And if you have to prepare an accounting for the beneficiaries this diary will be very helpful in doing so.
  10. Do Not enter into any contracts without speaking to the trust and estate attorney. During this very emotional time counsel is always recommended.
  11. DO NOT CHANGE THE TITLE OF ANY ASSETS!! Again, you need to discuss this with your trust and estate attorney. They know the      ramifications of changing title as well as when and how to go about doing it while protecting you and the family.


Jeffrey A. Field is a lawyer, Certified Financial Planner® and Certified Tax Coach® that focuses his practice on helping small businesses, entrepreneurs, and families grow their business, generate and enjoy their wealth and pass it on and protect it for future generations. Contact him at 818.369.7900 for further