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The death of a loved one can stir deep emotions. At first, you may feel sad, unprepared, worried and confused. You may also feel the need to take action, but don’t know where to start. If so, this article will help. We assembled a checklist of things that should be done within 30 days of a loved one’s death. Just print it off and make notes in the margins as you progress through the steps.
Confirm pronouncement of death. If death was expected: the decedent's medical doctor or hospice care provider will usually call the County Coroner’s office.
1. If the decedent died in your home, contact the police. Request a trauma intervention counselor if needed (they will provide emotional support while police process the death site). The decedent’s remains should not be moved, except during CPR. The police will notify the County Coroner’s office.
2. Make Notifications. Contact all known family and friends. Ask them to help you contact others. If you need to contact someone in the military: The American Red Cross will assist with notifications if the decedent was in the military or you need help contacting someone currently serving. Remember to contact the decedent’s employer and clergy.
3. Verify Disposition of Remains. Transportation of decedent’s remains will usually occur according to the hospital administrator’s or coroner’s instructions. The mortuary will normally arrange transportation to the decedent’s final resting place.
4. Find Decedent’s Final Instructions. Look through Decedent’s files, a joint safe deposit box, and personal belongings to determine the following: a.) Did decedent have a prepaid burial plan? b.) Did decedent belong to a memorial society? c.) Did decedent leave any written instructions regarding a funeral or burial? (Check the last will or trust documents.)
5. Prepare for Burial, Funeral or Memorial Service. Go to mortuary with a trusted family member or friend to make funeral arrangements. It is usually best to invite someone caring and practical. Arrangements can include transferring the remains to another location, burial or cremation. Was the decedent a funeral society member? If yes, contact the funeral society to determine the availability of cremation or burial cost discounts. Was the decedent on public assistance? If so, determine if benefits include a burial costs contribution. Contact the local Department of Social Services. Do this before contracting for any burial services, as funeral costs may be limited to qualify for financial support. The mortuary can do this for you. If the decedent was in the military or was a dependent child or spouse of someone in the military, contact the VA office to determine the availability of burial benefits. The mortuary can do this for you. Contact the decedent’s fraternal or religious organizations as they may provide additional funeral services.
6. Manage Immediate Needs. Consider delegating the following tasks to close friends and relatives: a.) Answering the telephone; b.) Collecting decedent’s mail and newspapers; c.) Caring for decedent’s pets; d.) Guarding decedent’s home against burglary while family attends funeral; e.) Coordinating a post funeral reception (it’s best to set a budget).
7. If Decedent had an Agent under Power of Attorney, Trustee of Family Trust, or Conservator: Notify any and all of power of attorney agents, trustees and conservators of the decedent’s death; They may be useful in distributing funds for expenses or providing information about the decedent’s last wishes. If there are any conflicts over authority between two or more fiduciaries, contact a competent probate attorney.
8. Order Death Certificates. Your funeral director can help your obtain death certificates. Knowing how many to order is a little tricky. You should get one for the court, one for each of decedent’s financial institutions, one for each life insurance policy, one for each partnership, one for each parcel of land decedent owned with another person. It is best to order two or three extras if you have any doubt. If you don’t order enough, you can always request more at a later date.
9. Make Secondary Contacts. If the decedent’s house is vacant, request patrol checks from the local police. Contact a probate attorney to learn how decedent’s assets transfer and for assistance with will or trust administration. Contact an accountant or tax preparer to determine the necessity of filing final income tax, or trust or estate tax returns. Contact investment professionals to obtain decedent’s holding information and to help you identify assets. Contact banks to obtain account information and locate safe deposit boxes. Contact insurance agents to locate life insurance policies and obtain claim forms.
Contact social services to determine if there are any benefits. Contact the Social Security Administration to stop monthly checks and seek possible death benefits. Contact Veterans Affairs to stop monthly checks and seek possible death benefits. Contact pension plan administrators to stop checks and request claim forms. Contact utility, cable, telephone and internet service providers to discontinue or change payee of service. Contact the decedent’s employer for death benefit determination. Contact newspapers, magazines and internet based subscriptions to discontinue or change payee of services. Contact the post office to request a change of address, so mail is forwarded to decedent’s personal representative or trustee.
Contact satellite radio company, toll roads (cancel transponders), cellular telephones and other monthly subscription-based service providers to discontinue services. If the decedent served as a power of attorney agent, conservator or trustee, make appropriate notifications; contact a probate attorney for assistance. Search for will, trust and any other estate plan documents. Check these common locations: decedent’s files, safe deposit boxes, the decedent’s attorneys, accountants and other advisors, the conservator (if applicable), the power of attorney agent, family members, close friends, facility administrator (if the decedent’s last known address is a nursing home or assisted living facility) and the county probate court (someone else may have already filed the will).
10. Find and Organize Other Documents:
11. Read the Will, Trust and Other Estate Plan Documents. Who is the personal representative of the will? Although the term personal representative is gender neutral, a male personal representative is an executor and a female is an executrix. Don’t get too caught up with these terms, however. They are pretty much interchangeable. In fact, I’ve seen females referred to as executors. The personal representative is in charge of body, burial and funeral arrangements.
Find the successor trustee of decedent’s trust. (Start by reading the trust document. Typically it’s the same person named as personal representative in the will.) Give them the original will, trust and other related estate plan documents. If you need help understanding the will or trust, or have questions, contact a competent probate attorney.
12. Open the Safe Deposit Box. If the decedent had a safe deposit box, anyone else also named on the box may open it at any time. Nobody else has the authority to do so. With one exception. Most banks will open the box for heirs seeking a will, burial plot deed or burial instruction. A bank employee will open the box. The bank will keep possession of all documents until presented with a court order to the contrary. They may also lodge a will with the probate court.
13. Protect Against Inheritance Theft. Be particularly careful about accepting telephone or mail solicitation during this time. Cons will come up with all kinds of ways to get money from the estate. Carefully review all incoming invoices. Properly secure all tangible assets. Take pictures and inventory each item before family and friends begin taking things promised to them by the decedent. Get a FREE DOWNLOAD of Our Book, STEALING HOME: A Con’s Guide to Inheritance Theft.
14. Hire a Probate Attorney to Begin Probate Administration Process. Lodge the Will with the appropriate probate court. Avoid making asset related decisions until you are aware of the tax consequences, otherwise you may lose valuable tax advantages. Follow your attorneys advice. Click this link for a competent probate attorney.
15. Hire a Probate Attorney to Begin the Trust Administration Process. Send a copy of the trust and a notice of intent to administrator it to all interested people. Keep a penny accurate accounting of all trust funds. Meet with an accountant to prepare final tax returns. Don’t make asset allocation decisions until the tax and non-tax consequences are clear. Always follow your attorney’s advice.
Get a FREE Consultation with a competent probate attorney by calling (800) 840-1998 or by filling out the Free Case Review form on this page. We will take it from there.
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