What to do Immediately After a Loved One Dies

Your loved one has passed away.As hard as it is to process in the moment, you owe it to your loved one, friends, and family to take the lead, ask questions, and facilitate action. If the decedent, the loved one who has passed away, has a will or trust, then it will list a personal representative or trustee who is in charge of the estate. But as a member of the potential estate, whether or not you are a personal representative or trustee, you have an interest in making sure that the estate is properly processed. Immediately following the passing of the decedent, the estate needs financial and legal protection. By focusing on the following five simple steps, you can help facilitate action and act in the best interest of the estate.

Find the will to initiate probate

Ideally, you will already have all of the decedent’s estate planning documents in place at the time of their passing. This is highly-advisable in the event that complex medical decisions must be made. But in any case, having a will is essential. A Last Will and Testament leaves instructions and nominates personal representatives. Even if you think you know who the personal representative is, such individuals are nominated and not required to serve. If a named personal representative is unable or unwilling to serve, you will need to the will to determine if a successor personal representative is named or if a court must name one. The will also allows you to start the probate process with your local court. Even if a will is merely a pour-over will to a trust, a court must agree that this instruction is appropriate and close the probate estate. If there is no will, then the estate is will go through the “intestacy” process at the probate court level. This means the court will administer the estate according to very specific statutory requirements. 

Request death certificates

You must have readily available proof of the decedent’s death. Any reputable institution or government office will at least demand to see a death certificate in order to treat an individual as deceased. In many cases, they will request a certified copy for their records. Also, and incredibly frustrating as this is, some institutions or government agencies might not process information correctly and will request additional or duplicate documentation. Therefore, you will want to procure several certified copies of the death certificate.

Notify banks, brokerages, and life insurance providers

There are massive legal ramifications for banks, brokers, life insurance companies, and other financial institutions when a customer dies. It might seem obvious from a distance, but the decedent’s life insurance company cannot provide death benefits if they are unaware of the decedent’s passing. Depending on the nature of the death and internal processes, the insurance proceeds may not arrive as quickly as you think. Therefore, you should start the process as soon as possible. Banks and brokers have significant filing, compliance, and tax obligations related to the passing of a customer. They need to understand whether monies and tax statements are issued to an individual or an estate. Additionally, these institutions will likely be dealing with a new individual and must follow estate instructions. The same types of considerations apply to mortgage companies, loan providers, credit card companies, and any other financial institution you can think of. They need to see proof that the decedent has passed and understand their obligations in a given situation.

Notify government entities

If the decedent has received or is entitled to government benefits, or if the estate is entitled to some kind of benefit, you must let the government know that the decedent has passed. First and foremost, continuing to receive and use the government benefits of a deceased individual as though they were still alive is a crime. Additionally, government agencies like the Social Security Administration and the Veteran’s Affairs Administration may provide death or survivor benefits. Depending on the nature of government benefits received during the lifetime of the decedent, the government may also have an interest in the estate.

Contact service providers

Who is paying the light, water, and TV bill of the decedent? Does it make sense to cancel these services? These are the questions the members of the estate must ask. Some services like lawn care or other property maintenance may remain necessary for a while. But what about club memberships, magazine subscriptions, and internet subscription services? Check bank or credit card records to see what services the decedent has paid for on a regular basis.

Don't face estate administration matters without skilled legal counsel. The Maryland estate planning attorneys at Altman & Associates have decades of experience and are personally dedicated to each client. Estate administration is a complex process and a very serious legal obligation which requires proper legal counsel.  Please visit the experienced Maryland estate planning attorneys at Altman & Associates at one of our convenient Maryland office locations in Columbia and Rockville. Contact us by phone at (301) 468-3220 or online to schedule a consultation.

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