Unfortunately, at some point in our lives, we will all find ourselves navigating the loss of a loved one. Understandably, you have probably never sat down and thought about what steps you need to take after a loved one passes away. Consequently, if you find yourself in that position you may not know what to do. Although every experience is unique, a Fayetteville estate planning attorney at Wilcox Attorneys, PA offers a practical guide to steps you may need to take when a loved one passes away.
- Notify the hospital/authorities of organ donation. If your loved one was an organ donor, or you have the authority to make the decision, it is crucial to notify someone immediately.
- Arrange for the handling 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.
- 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. In this day and age, you need to work fast to notify family members before social media does it for you.
- Secure major assets. Make sure major assets, such as the decedent’s home and vehicle are secured. For example, make sure all doors and windows are locked and the keys are somewhere safe.
- Obtain several certified death certificates. You (or whoever is 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. In Arkansas, you can obtain a certified death certificate through the Arkansas Department of Health. You would rather have too many certified death certificates than not enough. Some institutions will require an original, certified death certificate and might not send it back to you. Not every place will accept a copy of the death certificate.
- Consult with the funeral home. 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.
- Stop benefits. Contact the Social Security Administration, the Veterans Administration, and any other government agency from which the decedent received benefits. Let them know that the benefits should cease.
- Look for 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 an attorney. Consult with an attorney regarding the administration of an estate. The attorney will be able to tell you if a probate must be initiated in order to ensure that 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 you must continue paying, such as a mortgage.
- Cancel less important accounts. Contact the post office to handle the decedent’s mail. Cancel memberships (particularly anything on autopay).
- Order a headstone. If you did not already do this, it can be done at this time.
- Shut down 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.
This is not necessarily an exhaustive list. Every situation is different, and every estate is different. Consulting an attorney is always the best first step. It will eliminate a lot of stress and answer a lot of questions on the front end, which will help make navigating the loss more manageable.
Contact a Fayetteville Estate Planning Attorney
For additional information, please sign up for one of our FREE estate planning webinars. If you have additional questions or concerns about estate planning, contact an experienced Fayetteville estate planning attorney at Wilcox Attorneys, PA by calling 479-443-0062 to schedule your appointment today.