Whenever a loved one dies, the surprise and grief can paralyze a family. Sometimes, issues that need to be taken care of immediately are overlooked while the family grieves. However, certain things must be done right away to avoid regret later on. Knowing what will be required of you when a loved one dies, will allow you to make the necessary plans in advance:
1. Check For Organ Donor Instructions
Many people choose to become organ donors after they pass away. However, if their organs aren’t harvested soon after they passed away, they may no longer be able to be transplanted. When the decedent has listed organ donations on his or her driver’s license or a healthcare directive, swift action must be taken. Often, within the first 24 hours.
2. Plan the Funeral
Unlike weddings and other family events, where you may have months or even years to plan ahead, funerals must usually be planned and executed in a matter of days. This includes contacting and inviting everyone and making the necessary arrangements. So, when a loved one dies, contact the funeral home as soon as possible so that you don’t add more stress to an already stressful situation.
3. Secure the Home
Sometimes, after a loved one dies, relatives, neighbors, and others enter their residence and remove valuable assets or documents. It is, therefore, wise to secure the home to prevent valuable assets and important documents from being lost. This might mean changing all of the door locks, since any number of relatives, friends, and even neighbors may have keys to your loved one’s home.
4. Identify Your Loved One’s Important Documents
Locate and identify any will or trust documents, that your loved one executed. Also, identify any funeral and burial plans, retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and lists of assets or financial accounts your loved one may have left behind. These documents can easily get lost in the aftermath of a person’s death, but may contain information that is vital to your family’s future. So, it is best to locate them as soon as possible.
5. Identify Who is in Charge
Identify who is in charge of handling your loved one’s estate. Have a look at any financial power of attorney, health care power of attorney, Will, or trust that your loved one executed. These documents will usually name the personal representative, executor, or trustee designated to handle your loved one’s estate.
6. Order Death Certificates
Immediately after a loved one’s death is also the time to order death certificates. A death certificate is an official government document. It certifies that the decedent has died and declares other information, such as the time and place the death occurred.
Death certificates can be ordered through the funeral home, the county or state in which your loved one died, or any third-party agency that provides this service.
You may need many (10-20) death certificates to close the decedent’s financial accounts, make funeral arrangements, access your loved one’s pension and life insurance benefits, and to perform other tasks involved in settling his or her estate.
7. Conduct a Family Meeting
If your loved one designated a personal representative or executor of his or her estate, this person (or the head of the family) should hold a family meeting to let everyone know what’s going on with your loved one’s estate and to reassure them that everything will be dealt with properly and transparently.
8. Contact the Neighbors
Neighbors can be very helpful when a loved one dies. However, they may be unaware that he or she has passed away. Ask them to keep an eye out for worrisome activity around your loved one’s home.
9. Contact Current or former Employer
Your loved one’s employer (current and/or former) should be notified of his or her death as soon as possible. This way the employer can make whatever arrangements need to be made and start the process of applying for your loved one’s death benefits.
10. Take Care of the Mail
If the home where your loved one lived will be empty for a while, the post office should be notified to hold or forward his or her mail to make sure it does not accumulate in the mailbox. A full and unattended mailbox can invite wrongdoers to single out your loved one’s residence for burglary or other mischiefs.
11. Cancel Credit Cards
It is now easier than ever for a person’s credit card information to be stolen and someone’s death presents a prime opportunity for credit card thieves. Locate your loved one’s credit cards and notify the suppliers of his or her death, so that they can cancel the cards as soon as possible.
12. Notify Your Loved One’s bank
Your loved one’s bank may not know that he or she has passed away until they are told. Meanwhile, automatic deposits and withdrawals that are now unnecessary may continue to be made. If this happens, these transactions may need to be reversed later on at someone’s considerable inconvenience.
13. Contact the Social Security Office
If your loved one was receiving Social Security Benefits, they need to be discontinued right away. If these benefits continue to be paid, the executor of your loved one’s estate will have to go through a lot of trouble to pay them back later. What’s more, if there are death benefits to be paid to your loved one’s dependents, you will want to contact the Social Security Office to have these benefits commenced as early as possible.
14. Determine if the Estate Needs to Be Probated
Any assets that your loved one owned outright and in their own name when they passed away will likely need to be probated, unless they contain a beneficiary designation. On the other hand, assets that he or she owned jointly or in trust or that have a designated beneficiary may bypass probate and be passed on directly to the intended heir or beneficiary.
15. Consult with Legal Counsel
Dealing with all of the details involved in settling a loved one’s estate after they pass away can be overwhelming. You may benefit from the assistance of competent legal counsel, especially when there are significant assets involved. An experienced attorney can walk you through all of the steps that need to be taken to settle your loved one’s estate, so that his or her legacy is protected and honored.
Consult with an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney
When drafting a trust, you should always enlist the assistance of a qualified estate planning attorney. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you avoid many of the problems that can render your trust ineffective or useless. For more information, contact us or sign up below for one of our events.