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Settlement is what you do when someone dies.  All too often, clients come to me to plan for their own estates, and, as we explore the estate – what accounts are there?  what property do you have?   We learn that some of their property is actually still titled to people who are dead.  Dead people cannot act.  It is up to the living to act for them, so in these cases my living client often asks me to help settle the estate of a dead relative.  

Settlement should be done at the time, when people still remember things, before the house has been cleaned out, before the mail stops coming.  It is part of the grieving process, like memorializing the person's life.  

Although I have written disapprovingly of digital estate planning, digital settlement should be done.  By that I mean, that companies with whom the person has done business should be notified.  A final bill should be requested and paid.  If the person had a facebook page, Facebook should be notified, so that the page can be shut down or placed into memorial mode.

Settlement is especially crucial for a widow or widower.  There can be serious tax and other consequences from failing to reorganize the dead spouse's trust.  Sometimes this means the widow or widower risks losing the power to make important choices if they wait too long to settle.  The survivor should also reorganize his or her own documents.  The dear departed should not be listed as a trustee or on a power of attorney or health care proxy.  This is part of putting together a life without the departed spouse.  It is part of grief.  It is often hard.  There is a lot to do, and one is continually reminded of what has happened.  Appropriate professional help can make the process easier, though.