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December 01, 2013

Book Review: ABA/AARP Checklist for Family Survivors

David Godfrey

(Note: The pdf for the issue in which this article appears is available for download: BIFOCAL Vol. 35, Issue 2.)

The Checklist for Family Survivors is practical, methodical, detailed, and easy to read and follow. The book is a must-have for surviving family and friends tasked with organizing and settling an estate. With potentially hundreds of details to handle, survivors are often overwhelmed by these tasks. Each chapter of the Checklist for Family Survivors contains a brief description of the issues for the topic covered, followed by checklists and forms to help gather and organize the needed information. The forms and checklists included in the text are also included on an attached CD-ROM, making it possible to gather and save information in the book or on a computer.

The book opens with what needs to be done immediately after learning that a person has died such as: notifying family and friends, making funeral or memorial arrangements, and assuring the safety and security of persons, property, and pets. Subsequent chapters step the reader through building a team to organize and settle the estate and readying the estate for probate. The book covers how to collect and organize information on: the family and friends of the deceased; the assets the person owned; debts, wills and estate plans, and insurance; and how to deal with personal items (what to keep and what to toss). The final chapter offers ideas for the personal side of managing these matters with insight on dealing with grief, stress, and loss.

Despite its helpfulness in readying an estate for probate, the book is not a do-it-yourself guide to probate. Probate, or otherwise settling an estate, differs widely from state-to-state and estate-to-estate and depends on the laws of the state and the complexity of the estate.

Many estates are not good do-it-yourself projects and I have yet to read a book that successfully describes how to go it alone. The checklists and forms in the book will help the survivor gather and organize the information they need to help a probate or trust attorney settle the estate as efficiently as possible. Here lies a great value to the user of the book: gathering the information outlined in the book will save a lot repeat visits and calls for more information from an attorney.
Anyone named as executor or trustee of an estate should order a copy today, before it is needed. Reading it now, beginning to collect information, and keeping the book handy will mean less work needs to be done later, easing the stress placed on family and friends in an emotionally trying time. If I were an estate planning and probate attorney, I would give my clients copies of this book and encourage them to use it before they need and to keep it on hand for when they do need it.

ABA/AARP Checklist for Family Survivors:
A Guide to the Practical and Legal Matters You Have to Pay Attention to When Someone Dies 
by Sally Balch Hurme
Available February 7, 2014
Order at
Paperback, $19.95 

David Godfrey

About the author: David M. Godfrey is a Senior Attorney at the ABA Commission on Law and Aging.