By Alexis Levitt

If a loved one just died, there are many steps to attend to; one very important task is to determine if their estate exceeds $2 million, and if so, you need to proceed carefully.
To figure out if an estate is over $2 million, you need to look at everything that the decedent owned. That includes not just the things that she owned herself, but also jointly held assets, accounts that list beneficiaries, and more. If the decedent’s name is tied to the asset in any way, it counts for estate taxes. Look at bank accounts, real estate value, IRAs, savings bonds, trusts – anything and everything that is connected to the decedent’s name.
And if these assets add up to $2 million or more? The first thing you need to do is – stop. Do not distribute assets out to beneficiaries, do not roll over IRAs, do not remove the decedent’s name from joint bank accounts. Do nothing. The second thing you do is visit an attorney who focuses on estate tax returns. She will help you determine what you can and can’t do with each asset, and when. She will calculate the amount of estate tax owed (and she will do her best to find ways to reduce that amount!). She will help you decide which funds to use to pay the estate taxes, and when.
There is a strict time limit of nine months after death to do these calculations, and to complete and file the estate tax return. Nine months may sound like a lot of time, but with this type of work, it’s honestly barely enough. So please go see your estate tax attorney as soon as you can