Here are 10 of the most common steps we often advise our clients to take soon after a loved one passes away:
Look for a Will, Trust Agreement, and Health Care Directive where they kept important documents.
Contact your loved one’s estate planning attorney if you can’t find the originals of these documents.
Their Will should state who they nominated as their Personal Representative or Executor - this is the person who is responsible for handling your loved one’s financial affairs.
Arrange for funeral, burial, and cremation services based on the instructions in their Health Care Directive or Will.
Often the funeral home will arrange for an obituary unless you request that one is not posted.
Order at least 8 certified copies of the death certificate.
Determine the extent of their assets and debts.
Assets include properties, bank accounts, IRAs, insurance policies, and personal property (vehicles, art, etc.).
Debts include mortgages, loans, credit cards, and liens.
Assess whether any of their assets had beneficiary or payable on death designations by contacting the financial institutions.
You will need to present a certified copy of the death certificate to the financial institution.
Some institutions will not discuss a deceased loved one’s financial matters unless you show them Letters Testamentary (a court order that shows you were appointed as the personal representative) or an Affidavit of Collection for Small Estates (only used in Minnesota when the entire probate estate is less than $75,000.)
Consult with an estate planning attorney to determine whether your loved one’s estate needs to be probated (administered in court).
Secure their property by changing the locks on the house, maintaining the home, and collecting the mail.
Contact the Social Security Administration and any other agency they received benefits from to inform the agency of your loved one’s passing.
Obtain an Employer Identification Number and open an estate bank account if necessary.
Pay your loved one’s bills using their assets if you are the personal representative/executor.
Some estates may be considered exempt from creditors’ claims - consulting with an estate planning/probate attorney will determine whether this is the case for your loved one’s estate.
Posted by Schuyler Tilson-Doheny
Please remember, this post provides educational information only and in no way constitutes legal advice.