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Steps to Take upon death of a loved one

You just lost a loved one… now what?

As a probate attorney for over 20 years I have dealt with well over 1,000 deaths at work. I have also dealt with the deaths of several family members and close friends. It’s a part of life… death and taxes! So, you just a loved one what should you do? We provide this to assist you during these trying days.

First and foremost take care of yourself! Though we are not psychologists nor do we have any formal training in the realm of psychology it is a part of our work to hear about the death of a loved one. We talk to people about death every day. Do something nice for yourself while you make all the necessary arrangements! Some suggestions might be to get a massage, take time to talk to friends and family, or even call upon a mental health professional for a consult. Just do not forget that you have needs during this most stressful and difficult time. DO NOT FORGET ABOUT YOURSELF!

As you move forward try not to do this alone. Call upon a trusted friend or relative for help. If you don’t have anybody you feel comfortable reaching out to maybe you have religious clergy who could provide some guidance!? Or a good mortuary can be helpful. The key is you will need, at a minimum, some direction and likely more than that. Do not be shy as people generally want to help those in need. ASK FOR HELP!

Sadly, when someone dies bad people might take an opportunity to benefit for themselves. I strongly encourage people to secure the decedent’s home and consider moving items away from the house for safekeeping. Though you do not have letters issued by the probate court there is a practical necessity to protect things. You probably shouldn’t, or physically can’t, move everything but small items of financial or sentimental value should probably be moved to a safe place. Just make sure the rest of the family knows so nobody thinks you are stealing the items! SECURE ITEMS OF VALUE!

Along the lines of securing items of value is stopping deliveries and mail from being made to the house. Cancel the newspaper right away so they don’t pile up in the driveway! You can try to put a mail forward in with the US Post Office so that the mail goes somewhere other than the deceased’s house. At least ask the post office to put a hold on the mail. STOP DELIVERIES!

Once your deceased loved one’s home and property are secure you need to CALL A MORTUARY or funeral home. They deal with death all day and every day. They are very professional in my experience. A good professional is worth the cost here. They will help you with a number of things like obtaining death certificates and can point you in the right direction for many other things. This is not the time to do it yourself! CALL A MORTUARY or FUNERAL HOME FOR HELP!

Along the line of death certificates order a few more than you think you need. It is much easier to have a few extra then to order more copies later. If you think you will need 5 or 10. If you think you need 10 order 15. Generally one for each bank, life insurance company, financial company, and likely some other things you have not thought of. ORDER EXTRA DEATH CERTIFICATES!

Once you have selected the date, time and location of the funeral or memorial service you need to figure out who is going to officiate the event. Using a religious clergy is quite common but certainly not your only option. FIND YOUR OFFICIANT!

Hopefully you found your loved one’s phone book or maybe their email account was still open on their computer… because you need to notify the masses. Let them know of the sad news and invite them to the ceremony if it is open to them. Don’t be shy about asking for help making the calls. People want to know when someone dies. In my experience, even if I haven’t talked to them in several years I want to know. CONTACT FRIENDS AND RELATIVES!

At this point people might ask if there is a charity they could donate to in honor of the death. I often seen medical charities, the decedent’s college, or just a charity they cared about. It’s a nice way for people to show they care. This can be included in the obituary too! PICK A CHARITY!

Most people contact the local newspaper and/or the newspaper where your loved one spent the majority of their life. Be careful here as prices can add up! Obituaries can be expensive if you include every last thing you want to include. Read some other obituaries for ideas of what to include and not to include. I would make sure the newspaper has their own online portal or, better yet, links to a major site like legacy.com. Do not forget to include funeral information if it is open to the public. PREPARE A WELL WRITTEN OBITUARY!

You probably need to get a group of professionals to help you. The common professionals I see used at death are: estate attorney, financial planner, accountant and Realtor. All of them play an important role. They can make life easier for you. HIRE YOUR PROFESSIONALS!

Once you have a death certificate you might want to notify life insurance, 401k’s, IRAs, and any other assets that had, or might have, named beneficiaries. There can be tax consequences in some choices you make so talk to your tax professional before submitting the paperwork. FILE DEATH CLAIMS!

Aside from the death claims maybe the decedent had bank accounts, bonds, or other assets. If so you need to determine how to access them. This is often done by showing trust paperwork and a death certificate if there is a living trust. If there is no living trust then going to probate court may be required. Your estate attorney should be able to make this easier for you. CONTACT FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS!

Some people don’t realize but debts are not extinguished when someone dies except for certain student loans. As time goes on you should go through your loved one’s stuff and make a list of all possible creditors. Generally you’ll want to notify them before money is distributed to the heirs and beneficiaries. This is a place your estate attorney can likely help. DETERMINE DEBTS AND LIABILITIES!

When you are going through, making a list of all possible creditors, you should start to contact the credit card companies. Let them know of the death so that they close the account. While they usually wipe away any post-death fraudulent activity it’s best to close the accounts to avoid fraudulent activity from happening. CLOSE CREDIT CARDS!

You eventually need to cancel the decedent’s insurance and in due time their insurance carriers should be notified. Make sure you have new insurance lined up before canceling anything. INSURANCE IS IMPORTANT!

At some point utility bills should be taken out of the decedent’s name but there is no real urgency for that. The only drawback to not switching the account name over is that you likely will not be able to communicate much with the utility providers. That is, they will not supply you information other than maybe the amount due. SWITCH NAMES ON UTILITY ACCOUNTS!

Best wishes going through these most difficult days.

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10.0John Bernard Palley
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