Depending on your role in your loved one's estate plans (such as being named the Executor in the will); you may have significant duties and matters to handle upon their passing. First and foremost, you must allow yourself time to grieve and reflect upon that person's passing. Do not immediately try to handle such a task as handling the loved one's estate if you are still distraught or emotionally unstable. It is important to make sure you are mentally and emotionally prepared to take on such a significant and time-consuming matter by allowing proper time to grieve.
Once you are prepared to handle this matter, you will have certain legal duties depending on whether you were the deceased person's spouse, guardian and/or conservator, or the appointed Executor in the will. Provided that you are in one of these roles, the following next steps required when a loved one passes away:
- Consider funeral preparations. If possible, bring together key family members for an early conversation. Be sure to check for any pre-planned funeral arrangements. If there are no pre-planned arrangements, choose a funeral home and make preparations for a burial or cremation service. If your loved one was a veteran or a spouse of a veteran, be sure to check with Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration for any arrangements. It may be wise to ask for help from other family members or friends to assist in these preparations.
- Get duplicate death certificates.You may need a dozen certified death certificates to complete upcoming tasks. Most funeral homes will help you obtain these or you can pick up a copy from the local health department. You will likely need individual death certificates for each bank, financial institution, and other companies that you contact in order to handle the estate affairs.
- Notify the local Social Security office. Any social security money received after your loved one's death will have to be paid back to the Social Security Administration.
- Look into employment benefits.
- Stop health insurance.
- Notify life insurance companies.
- MEET WITH A PROBATE ATTORNEY. If there is a will, the Executor named in it and the attorney will have the document admitted into probate court. You will need the original will in order to admit it into the probate court. If there isn't a will, the probate court judge will name an administrator in place of an executor. The attorney can assist in addressing all issues involved in probating the will, handling the estate, and any lawsuits that may arise out of the deceased person's estate.
- Make a list of important bills (mortgage payments). The Executor will be responsible for addressing these bills, paying from the Estate, and perhaps terminating any services that no longer need to be paid. It's a good idea an Inventory of all assets (personal property, bank accounts, house, car, brokerage account, furniture, jewelry, etc.). If there is not a will, this inventory will have to be filed with the probate court.
- Notify utility companies (Gas, Water, Electric, Cable, etc.) to stop services. You may need to keep the utilities on while you determine what must be done with the real estate or house. Do not turn off the utilities if the spouse or someone else is still living in the house, or if you are preparing to sell the real estate in a short time.
- Contact financial advisers, stockbrokers, etc. Determine the beneficiary listed on these accounts. Depending on the type of asset, the beneficiary may get access to the account or benefit by simply filling out appropriate forms and providing a copy of the death certificate. If that's the case, the executor wouldn't need to be involved. If there are complications, the executor could be called upon to help out. Accounts with named beneficiaries do not go into the estate.
- Close credit card accounts.
- Notify credit reporting agencies.
- Cancel driver's license.
- Cancel memberships in organizations.
- 15 Keep family members, heirs, and beneficiaries updated on your progress. As you are going through these steps, make sure to keep family members, heirs, and beneficiaries updated. You can also retain the probate attorney to assist in preparing the proper paperwork and notifying and creditors.
Keep in mind that this list is not exhaustive, as it is very likely that you will have other issues pop up along the way. Also, remember that these are simply the steps you should complete within the few weeks and months after the passing of your loved one. There will be other issues, such as the Accounting, that the Executor will be responsible to complete for several months after the passing. Although it looks overwhelming, note that an experience probate/estate administration attorney can assist you in handling these issues quickly and conveniently. Please contact us today (256) 519-9970 if you are in need of some guidance and assistance in the administration of an estate.