The loss of a loved one may be the most traumatic event you will ever experience. Even if your loved one’s passing had been expected, the reality of the moment often hits hard. You will need some time to reflect on your loss and to make arrangements for your loved one’s cremation or interment.
There are important things to do once the initial shock is over to protect your loved one’s assets and to provide for the decedent’s spouse and beneficiaries of his or her estate:
1. If your loved one is to be interred, contact the funeral home. You should know if your loved one left pre-arrangements with a funeral home or a separate document stating how her final disposition should be handled. If he or she was a veteran, then the VA will pay up to a certain amount for funeral expenses, will provide a small plaque for the grave and may offer a graveside ceremony. There may be VA benefits for a surviving spouse or dependents; it is important to locate the veteran’s discharge papers (DD214).
2. You will need several certified copies of the death certificate for banks and other institutions. Accounts have to be closed out, life insurance and credit card companies notified, and automatic payment plans terminated. The funeral parlor can provide copies of the death certificate or you can obtain them from the town in which your loved one resided at death.
3. Friends, pastors, rabbis, other family members, and associates should be notified.
4. If the decedent was still working, you need to notify the Human Resources Department of the death and inquire about the decedent’s retirement plan and other benefits to which the surviving spouse or dependents, if any, are entitled to receive.
5. Hopefully, you or someone close to the decedent was advised of documents like a trust agreement, life insurance, and retirement accounts. If there is a Last Will and Testament, then an administrator or personal representative was nominated who needs to be advised of such. This also applies to anyone who is taking over as trustee for any trust established by the decedent since this person will have to be advised about his or her fiduciary duties and obligations in administering the estate and trust.
6. Contact the Social Security Administration about reporting the death. If minor children or a spouse survived the decedent, then ask about death benefits.
7. If there is a life insurance policy, the beneficiary will need to report the death to the insurance company in order to obtain the benefits and the beneficiary will need an original death certificate to present to the insurance company together with the original policy.
8. If your loved one had a social media presence, then find out if he or she left passwords, although most allow easy ways to change them if necessary so you can have access. Email accounts need to be closed down. Facebook has a process for closing out an account and for memorial events for others to see. Delete all other accounts but allow a time for the decedent’s friends and associates to express their condolences and to share memories.
9. Most importantly, contact an experienced probate administration attorney who can represent the estate regarding any probate matters and properly advise you and the family regarding how to handle the decedent’s assets, debts, and the tax implications when assets are finally distributed to various family members or other beneficiaries.
No action regarding assets should be taken until the matter is discussed with an attorney. If assets are sold or the title changed, this can have significant tax consequences that may be avoided if properly handled.
Consult Probate Administration Attorney Patricia Bloom-McDonald
Although retaining an attorney may not be your first priority after a loved one has passed, retaining one to handle the affairs of the decedent and oversee the administration of any probate matters can make your life and that of your family so much easier. Attorney Patricia Bloom-McDonald is an experienced probate lawyer who can advise you on how your loved one’s estate is to be handled in regard to claims against the estate and so as to avoid delays and unnecessary costs and taxes. Contact her today if a loved one has passed to schedule a complimentary one hour consultation on what steps need to be taken.