Following the death of a loved one it can be difficult to know what to do first. There are so many practical and legal steps you will need to take. It can be overwhelming and difficult to focus on the steps you need to take because of the grief you are experiencing. The exact steps that need to be taken will vary depending on the circumstances; however, a Los Angeles estate planning attorney at Collins Law Firm explains offer some steps to take following the death of a loved one.
- Determine if the decedent was an organ donor. Obviously, this is only relevant in the immediate aftermath of a loved one’s death. It may be extremely difficult to do; however, if your loved one was an organ donor, it is crucial to notify someone immediately. Remember that he/she made the choice to be a donor.
- Arrange the disposition of the body. If you know what funeral home you want to handle the disposition of the body, notify them immediately. If the decedent made his/her own funeral and burial plan, the terms of that plan must be followed. Look for a pre-paid funeral contract or for a funeral trust among the decedent’s estate planning documents. If a funeral trust was created, the person named as Trustee in that trust agreement is officially in charge of the arrangements. Keep in mind that state law may require preservation and/or removal of the body within a specific number of days.
- Notify close family. You undoubtedly know whom you need to contact. If you are unable to speak to them yourself, make sure you designate someone else to make the calls.
- Secure major assets. Ultimately, the Executor of the estate or the Trustee of a trust will be responsible for the estate assets. Someone close to the decedent, however, should secure major assets right away if the Executor/Trustee is unknown or unavailable.
- Obtain several certified death certificates. The Executor of the estate will need to show proof of the decedent’s death to the funeral home, financial institutions, and a variety of other third parties. If the decedent died in California, a certified death certificate can be obtained from the Department of Public Health.
- Contact the funeral home. If the decedent did not plan, someone must start funeral arrangements immediately. Even if the decedent did preplan his/her funeral, it is still important to meet with them to make sure the arrangements are clear, and everything is moving along as intended.
- Notify extended family, friends, and the public. You should now try and notify friends and family that don’t already know. You may also wish to write an obituary and arrange for it to be published in a local newspaper.
- Close financial and investment accounts. Notify banks, credit card companies, investment funds, and other accounts of the decedent’s death and ask to close the accounts. Also, request a final statement.
- Stop government benefits. Contact the Social Security Administration, the Veterans Administration, and any other government agency from which the decedent received benefits and request that benefits cease based on the passing of the recipient.
- Compile estate planning documents. Search for a Last Will and Testament, trust agreement, life insurance policies, and any other estate planning documents. If you do not already know where the decedent kept documents such as these, check a home office, ask close family members, or contact the decedent’s attorney.
- Consult with a probate attorney. The probate process must be initiated to ensure that the debts of the estate are paid, and the estate assets are passed down to the intended beneficiaries.
- Make a list of assets and debts. Not only will this help with the probate process, but there may be bills that you must continue paying, such as a mortgage payment.
- Cancel services and accounts. This includes things such as contacting the post office to stop the decedent’s mail, calling the cable company, and canceling memberships such as auto insurance.
- Order a headstone or urn. If you did not already do this, it can be done at this time.
- Deactivate electronic accounts and social media. If you have access, or the decedent left a list of passwords, start shutting down online accounts. If you do not have the necessary information/access, you may need to wait until the probate process gets underway.
Contact a Los Angeles Estate Planning Attorney
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions about the steps you need to take after the death of a loved one, contact an experienced Los Angeles estate planning attorney. Contact the Collins Law Firm by calling (310) 677-9787 to register for one of our FREE estate planning workshops.