The information in this column is not intended as legal advice but to provide a general understanding of the law. Any readers with a legal problem, including those whose questions are addressed here, should consult an attorney for advice on their particular circumstances.
What are DECEDENTS?
Often we in the legal world forget there are terms we use that are not used in everyday conversations. “Decedent” is one of those terms. Decedent a legal term that refers to a person who has died with unsatisfied legal obligations.
At the end of their life, a decedent has some legal duties that must be fulfilled through a representative. For example, decedents remain obligated to satisfy certain debts incurred during their life and file their last income tax return.
The word “decedent” is mostly used for estate planning purposes. For example, you may see this term in a last will and testament, or in estate closure documents related to closing a deceased person’s bank account and filing their final income taxes.
In addition to finalizing an estate, if a person was a party in an active civil lawsuit before they died, the word “decedent” will be added to the party’s name in court documents to signify that a representative is continuing with the case. I have had to assist families with loved ones that were a party to a lawsuit for personal injury and asbestos lawsuits. In those cases, someone has to been assigned the legal authority to continue the matter when the “decedent” dies.
Obligations of DECEDENTS
Decedents have legal obligations after their death. Since they cannot perform these duties, the person they appointed before their death must meet any obligations. These legal responsibilities must be handled according to state law if the deceased person did not name a representative before they died.
Duties of the Representative
Duties that someone has after they die that must be completed by their representative include the following:
– Notify banks, credit card companies, and other creditors about the death of the individual. Also, government agencies must be notified, including Medicaid, Medicare, and the Social Security Administration.
– File the decedent’s last will and testament with the probate court. The representative will also be responsible for representing the decedent’s estate in court.
– Pay any of their outstanding and payable debt.
– File income taxes.
– Open a bank account for the estate. The representative will pay bills, debts, and taxes from the new account.
– Distribute the estate’s assets to the heirs named in the decedent’s last will and testament, or ensure that the heirs at law receive the appropriate property if assets are passed down via intestate succession.
If you would like guidance on estate planning for yourself or for administering an estate following the death of a loved one, you should seek the advice of an attorney who focuses on estate planning and probate process to assist you with these matters.
Sam A. Moak is an attorney with the Huntsville law firm of Moak & Moak, P.C. He is licensed to practice in all fields of law by the Supreme Court of Texas, is a Member of the State Bar College, and is a member of the Real Estate, Probate and Trust Law Section of the State Bar of Texas.