Caring for Clients, Even After Farewell 

Lauren Williams, MBA, CFP®

Feb 2, 2024

One of the things Advisors have to learn on the job, emotionally, is how to deal with the knowledge that a client has passed away. Often in my relationships with clients, I get a sense of their energy, and I look forward to interacting with them in our meetings and phone calls. When this energy is no longer there, I feel the loss and understand what these people meant to their families, friends and communities. While Advisors aren’t family, we have unique relationships with our clients because we’ve spent countless hours talking about sensitive topics: money, goals, family and death, to name a few.

Learning of a client’s passing is never easy, but one of the silver linings is the relationship we form with the person who handles their estate, often referred to as the executor or personal representative. Getting to know this knew person is akin to a celebration of the client who passed away. At TCI, supporting our clients’ loved ones during an extremely difficult time is a way of honoring the relationship we had with the client. TCI is not a law firm, and I am not an attorney. However, I want to outline what a typical estate settlement looks like and how TCI offers support throughout the process.

Find the Last Will and Testament

For many, settling an estate is typically uncharted territory when they step into the role of executor. One of the first things an executor or personal representative needs is the most current copy of the last will and testament. This document is the legal foundation upon which they will operate and is necessary to get the probate process started. Since a regular review of our clients’ estate plans is part of our standard of care, TCI most likely will have a copy of the client’s recent will. Without this crucial document, settling the estate can become a challenging and uncertain task. Thus, a current copy of the will is not only a legal requirement, but also the means to honor the wishes of the departed and bring clarity to the often complex and emotional process of estate settlement.

Filing the Will with Probate Court

Next, with or without the assistance of an attorney, the personal representative will file the last will and testament with the county probate court. The court then opens the estate and grants letters officially authorizing the personal representative to settle the estate. These letters confer the necessary authority upon the personal representative to act on behalf of the deceased and facilitate the orderly management and distribution of the estate’s assets.

Filing the will with the probate court begins the legal and administrative journey toward fulfilling the wishes of the deceased. It addresses all debts and obligations, and, ultimately, distributes assets to beneficiaries. It’s a pivotal moment that sets the stage for the estate’s proper resolution, guiding the personal representative through their essential role in this intricate process.

Protecting Assets

From there, the personal representative should begin to get a handle on all the various pieces and nuances of the estate, what assets are involved, and who the beneficiaries are. TCI works closely with the personal representative through various aspects of this process since we typically have a strong working knowledge of what makes up our client’s estates. We can assist with tracking down known creditors or beneficiaries where possible. We regularly assist with opening estate accounts, the movement of assets and coordination with beneficiaries. We can offer any assistance and guidance to beneficiaries who might be unsure how to incorporate their inheritance into their current financial picture.

The types of assets involved in an estate settlement can drastically impact the complexity and expertise required. As situations arise that require legal or specific tax advice, we can tap into our local network or attorneys and CPAs to provide referrals as needed. We often do recommend that personal representatives consult with estate planning attorneys throughout the process to ensure that various deadlines are met and that required tasks are completed.

Closing the Estate

Once all of the assets have been distributed, all taxes have been paid and the closing statement filed the estate can be closed. Unfortunately, even with a straightforward estate settlement, this process could take over a year. No matter how long the estate settlement process takes, TCI will be there to make this process as seamless as possible.

Estate Settlement can be a complex and emotionally charged process. While this guide cannot encompass every nuance, it strives to instill confidence and offer a measure of support to those who may find themselves in this role. At TCI, our commitment to our clients is unwavering and extends well beyond their lifetime. It transforms into a profound responsibility during these critical times.

Our clients entrust us with a sacred duty. We are not just financial advisors; we become pillars of support and compassion, working diligently to ease the burden on our clients’ loved ones. Our role as advocates and guides through the intricate journey of estate settlement is a testament to that profound trust. It underscores the depth of our commitment to their well-being and financial legacy, even beyond their passing.

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