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Legal Matters: How to sort out a young person's estate

When a young person dies unexpectedly, survivors, often his parents, must cope with the trail of legal matters most of us create in life.

The dead person, call him Jim, may not have acquired an estate in the way we usually think of it - house, car, investments - but legally, he has an estate if he had assets.

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Family members settling his business affairs will need the death certificate. If they use the services of a funeral home, the staff will provide copies. Death certificates may also be obtained from the Vital Statistics Administration of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Learn more at

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If the dead person had no will and no assets- no home, no car, nothing but his clothes and a life insurance policy with his parents as beneficiaries - it is not necessary to open a probate estate.

If the deceased had a will or assets, his estate should be opened for probate at the Register of Wills Office. Learn more at

. A personal representative will be appointed to handle the estate bookkeeping requirements and creditors will have an opportunity to present claims. The parents, or a spouse if he was married, can retain an attorney to shepherd them through the process.

The young man's assets, minus payments for debts, will be distributed according to his will, if he had one. If he did not have a will and there is no surviving spouse, any children he had divide his entire estate. If he had no spouse and no children, parents are next in line to receive the entire estate.

What if the deceased was paying child support?

The support came out of his paycheck, which stopped when he died. The children may receive something from his will or through division of assets if he left no will, but they are also entitled to Social Security survivors' benefits. If he and the children's mother were married and later divorced, she may be entitled to Social Security benefits as a divorced spouse, but benefits she receives could affect the amount the children receive. Learn more at

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An ex-spouse is not is not legally entitled to anything from the dead person's estate. If she attempts to assert a claim, his parents can say, "Sorry."

If the deceased was making payments on a house, whoever is handling the estate should talk to the lender. If the lender required the dead person to take out a mortgage insurance policy, it will protect the lender by guaranteeing payment if the borrower defaults and the lender is unable to sell the house for enough to pay off the mortgage.

Death does not cancel the mortgage. If the estate does not have enough money to pay it off, the house must be sold to retire the loan. If the house sells for more than the outstanding balance on the loan, the difference will go to the estate for distribution.

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