How do I set up a bank account to handle my late sister's finances?

1 answer | Last updated: Jan 21, 2012
Rwakefi104 asked...

My sister passed away and had given me power of attorney. How can I set up a bank account to handle all of her payoffs, like last pay check, insurance, stocks, etc.?

Expert Answers

Amy Shelf is an attorney specializing in estate planning and probate for individuals and families of all means.

The power of attorney you had over your sister’s affairs was effective only for as long as your sister was alive. Since she has died, and unless she had a living trust in place, a probate court proceeding is generally required to give you or anyone else authority to administer her estate–to take care of paying her bills, collecting her assets and distributing them as appropriate.

If your sister had a will, she may have named an executor in it—a person who is given the responsibility and authority to administer her estate. A will would also likely specify who is to take any of your sister’s assets left after her debts have been paid.

If your sister did not have a will, she died “intestate” and her assets pass by the laws of intestate succession. The probate laws of your state probably give an order of preference as to who should be appointed to administer your sister’s estate if she died intestate. If your sister did not have a spouse or surviving children or parents, you may have priority to be appointed.

In many states, there are more streamlined and simple procedures available for administering estates that are small–usually worth less than $100,000. With some small estates, you don’t need to go to court at all, but can get all the help you need through the local probate court’s website, helpline, or special clinic set up to help people through the process.

To find out what to do in the case of your sister’s estate, you can certainly contact a lawyer. In addition, there are self-help materials available to you if you want to work without an attorney. For example, The Executor’s Guide, published by Nolo, provides detailed practical advice and information on the required procedures.