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Law Office of James Dolenga

When a Loved One Passes Away with A Will Or A Trust

When a loved one passes away we often just want to sit down and grieve. While this is certainly appropriate and you should certainly take time to do so here are a few items that need to be considered or handled over the next few weeks.

  • Notify friends and family – you may be able to notify one or two individuals who can spread the word to other loved ones or you may wish to use social media for a short statement regarding the passing with further information to follow. You can also gather information from your loved ones email/phone contacts, church groups, social groups etc. and ask them to pass on the news as well.
  • Try to locate any legal papers including trusts, wills, powers of attorney, funeral plans, burial plans, insurance policies. These may provide insight into what the person wanted in terms of funeral arrangements, cremation, prepaid services, and what family members want or can afford.
  • If there is no documentation regarding funeral arrangements, the family members will need to decide where the funeral will be held, whether it will be a burial or cremation, how large the service will be, and a budget. It makes sense to research funeral prices in advance. You can also reach out to the Veterans Administration and other social or religious groups to see if they offer burial benefits or other funeral services. You will need to decide on pallbearers, who will give a eulogy, thank you notes, and a post funeral gathering. You may also wish to write a personalized obituary.
  • Be sure to secure the deceased’s home, vehicle and other assets. Be sure to arrange to maintain the property, get the mail, itemize and secure any valuables, and throwaway perishable food items. You do not want the home to look neglected or abandoned as that may be an invitation for burglars or squatters.
  • Arrange care for any pets.
  • Contact the post office and have mail forwarded to whoever is responsible for administering the estate. This will avoid late payments on bills and will avoid the home looking like a target to burglars or squatters.
  • Contact the family members employer to arrange for any benefits or paychecks to be delivered to the correct address, and to find out about benefit plans or life insurance.
  • Request 10 death certificates – almost all financial institutions, the county recorder, Social Security and some creditors will want a certified copy of the death certificate. Often times the funeral home may be able to get your behalf otherwise the office of vital statistics in your state can provide them.
  • Distributing the assets and pay the bills can be complicated and can result in mistrust and disputes among beneficiaries. It may be wise to hire an attorney to navigate the process and distribute assets.
  • Contact a CPA. If your loved one had a CPA reach out to that person, otherwise you will need to hire one. The estate may need to file a tax return and a final tax return and any time you deal with the IRS you want to make sure things are done properly.
  • Open probate if necessary. If your loved one had a revocable living trust that was properly funded most assets can be administered pursuant to the language of the trust. If there are other assets that cannot be administered to the trust you will need to file probate to ensure that the debts and liabilities are paid and remaining property is transferred to the beneficiaries.
  • If there are valuables consider hiring an appraiser. This can help if there are tax questions and will avoid disputes over valuation among beneficiaries.
  • Cancel cell phones, cable TV, Internet service, car insurance etc.
  • Notify Social Security, any life insurance companies, banks, financial institutions, financial advisors, stockbrokers, credit agencies, DMV, banks issuing credit cards
  • Delete or memorialize social media accounts. You can contact some social media companies such as Facebook in order to maintain the posts and pictures associated with your loved ones account as a memorial. You will need to provide copies of your ID as well as the death certificate.
  • In order to prevent identity theft you should also close down the decedent’s email account. If the funeral plan did not provide the login information you may need to provide a copy of the death certificate in order to cancel the account along with your ID.
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