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South Carolina Probate Checklist

Many family members feel overwhelmed when a loved one dies. Not only do they need time to process their emotions, but there is quite a bit of legal work to do. In particular: probate. This is the legal process of paying off a deceased person’s debts by gathering all their assets and reviewing creditor claims. What is left over gets distributed according to the deceased person’s wishes. Before using this check list make sure you check out our guide on 8 Ways to Avoid Probate to make sure this is the right path for you.

At Surasky Law Firm, we can help anyone in South Carolina with a probate matter. Below, we provide a checklist for personal representatives to use. It provides an overview of steps to take. For more in-depth help with your case, you can call us today.

South Carolina Probate Checklist

Step 1: Find the decedent’s will

Before starting the process of probate, you need to make absolutely sure there is no will. 

  • Check in any desk, filing cabinet, or junk drawer.

  • Look for the name of a lawyer in an address book and contact them. Sometimes, a lawyer who drafted the will keeps a copy.

  • If there was no will, the estate still needs to go through probate (in most cases). In fact, you will follow most of the steps in this checklist.

Step 2. Make funeral arrangements

  • Check the will, driver's license, or advance directives to make sure your loved one did not want to donate organs.

  • Keep receipts of all expenses for funeral and burial arrangements. The estate should reimburse whoever paid for the funeral.

  • Notify family members of the funeral.

Step 3. Gather other important documents

These documents will help with administering the estate:

  • Death certificates (at least a dozen, if not more)

  • Birth certificate

  • Marriage certificate

  • Prenuptial agreement (if one existed)

  • Social Security card

  • Bank statements for all accounts

  • Insurance policies

  • Retirement account statements

  • Property deeds

  • Leases (if the deceased rented property)

  • Car title and registration

  • Most recent tax return filed

  • Credit card information

  • Investment accounts (stocks and bonds)

  • Cryptocurrency accounts (Bitcoin, Ethereum, Monero, etc.)

  • Trust documents 

Step 4. File the will with the probate court

You must notify the court of the death and you have 30 days from the date of death to file. You can file the will by filing a petition for probate with the local court in the county where your loved one died. If there was no will, you still file a petition for probate with a copy of the death certificate.

Step 5. Notify creditors and government agencies of the deceased’s death

You should promptly shut down accounts so that additional bills do not accrue. Notifying government agencies also helps prevent identity theft. Below is a list of agencies and people that need to be notified or investigated for accounts. 

  • Credit card companies

  • Mortgage company

  • Banks or credit unions

  • Employer

  • Post Office

  • Utility companies (phone, internet, electricity, etc.)

  • Lawyer

  • Accountant

  • Insurance agents

  • Social Security Administration

  • Veterans Administration

  • Landlord

  • Trustee

  • South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (if the deceased had a driver’s license or state ID)

  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (if the deceased was not a United states citizen)

Step 6. Notify credit reporting agencies

Contact Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion and report the decedent’s death.

Step 7. Mail the notice of your appointment to heirs and devisees

They need to know of the death since it impacts their rights; failure to do so could affect your case. You must mail this notice within 30 days of being appointed the personal representative. The probate court should have a form to use, but you can also consult an experienced South Carolina probate lawyer if you need assistance.

Step 8. Set up an estate checking account

The estate has its own legal identity. As the personal representative, you might need to sell assets and write checks to pay bills. You don’t use your own checking account for this purpose. Instead, contact the IRS and get an Employer Identification Number (EIN). Use this number to open an estate checking account with a local bank.

Step 9. Find and take possession of estate assets

As a personal representative, you are charged with gathering all estate assets. These include:

  • Motor vehicles

  • Real estate

  • Jewelry

  • Personal possessions

  • Pets

Step 10. Purchase or maintain insurance for certain assets 

The personal representative also needs to keep assets safe. This might mean continuing to pay insurance for motor vehicles, real estate or business assets, like business liability coverage

Step 11. Have assets appraised

The probate court needs to know the value of the estate, and you need to submit an inventory with appraisal to the court. Most estate assets are easy to value using market values. This is true of home furnishings and personal effects like that. A professional appraisal is sometimes required, however, especially if an asset is rare or unique.

Step 12. Create an inventory and submit it to the probate court

You must submit within 90 days of your appointment as a personal representative.

Step 13. File a personal income tax return for the deceased

The deadline is April 15 of the year after death.

Step 14. Review creditor claims and pay valid claims

Virtually everyone dies with at least a few unpaid bills, like a recurring cable or telephone bill. You contacted these companies to report the decedent’s death. Now, you also need to pay any outstanding bills. Before doing so make sure to review the claim by requesting supporting documentation. If there is not enough cash, you may need to liquidate the estate. 

Step 15. Discuss a wrongful death claim with a personal injury lawyer

Your loved one might have died in an accident, like a truck or motor vehicle accident, or they might have died in a violent attack. Family members could have a valid wrongful death case. Wrongful death cases pay compensation to certain surviving family members for the loss of a beloved family member. 

Step 16. Review the will

The will identifies who the deceased wanted to inherit from them. For many estates, this will be straightforward. However, some beneficiaries could have died before the deceased. You should check to see if there are contingent beneficiaries.

Step 17. Coordinate with beneficiaries and devisees

Once creditor claims are all paid, you will distribute the remaining estate assets to the beneficiaries under the will. This might be as easy as cutting a check for them, or you might need to arrange the pickup of a motor vehicle, pets, and other items. You will need to transfer title or deed to certain assets, like a motor vehicle.

Step 18. File all tax returns

Your probate lawyer can coordinate with an accountant, if necessary, if the estate is complex. In addition to the personal tax return (mentioned above), you might also need to file:

  • Alternate estate tax valuation

  • Federal and state estate tax returns

  • Federal and state fiduciary tax returns

Step 19. Close the estate

The probate court should have a form you use to close the estate after making distribution.

Do You Need Help with Probate?

We understand that losing a loved one is a difficult and emotional time. Dealing with the legal matters of probate can add to the stress, but you don't have to go through it alone. At Surasky Law Firm, our experienced South Carolina probate attorneys can guide you through every step of the process, ensuring a smooth and efficient resolution for your family. Contact us today


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