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First Steps After a Loved One Has Died

4fjHtYHdRlSemICxjjBu_IMG_8424Unless you have been an executor for a loved one in the past, you are probably not thinking about a “to-do” list of things that must be done shortly after someone dies. This is a useful list, and one you may want to keep on hand.

Once the initial shock passes, and it is always a shock, even when death is expected, it is necessary to tackle the practical tasks of protecting the family as soon as a loved one dies, says Kiplinger in the article “5 Things to Do the Moment a Loved One Passes Away.”

If you know you are named as executor of the will, take these steps to be sure that the named beneficiaries receive as much of the estate as possible.

Obtain Access to Home and Documents. It’s crucial to get access as soon as possible, to obtain tax returns and financial statements, as well as jewelry and family heirlooms. Gather all tax records, credit cards, bank statements, and expensive items of personal property. You may also want to change the door locks, if there are items of value still in the home.

Gain Protection by Freezing All Financial Accounts. Unfortunately, obituaries provide sufficient information about deceased people to let burglars try to break into their home or to steal valuables. Death certificates are usually available, days after a person dies. Immediately contact the decedent’s credit card companies and banks and instruct them to freeze the accounts. This will stop any automatic payments of the decedent’s bills. Creditors must wait to get paid, until the estate is in probate and being administered to by the executor.

Have the decedent’s mail forwarded to you, by providing the post office with a letter signed by your administering attorney stating your authority and intentions.

If the property is owned by the decedent, make sure it’s insured because it still may contain valuables. The estate is liable for any damage to neighboring real estate caused by the residence, such as water leaks or fires that started in the home.

Inventory the property that you’ve removed and keep items of substantial value in a safe deposit box.

Obtain Taxes and Financial Statements. Between your search of the person’s home and the forwarded mail you should now be getting, you should be able to put together a good financial picture of the estate’s assets and liabilities.

Don’t Go it Alone. You may choose to work with your loved one’s estate planning attorney, CPA and financial advisor, but you don’t have to. If you have a trusted team of your own, you may prefer to work with them. Interview the decedent’s professionals and find out what they charge, what services they will perform and how often they have handled this situation. If your loved one used an attorney to create their will with no estate planning experience, you will want to make a switch to one with experience in probate and estate matters.

You should always contact your estate planning attorney in the event of a severe illness and upon death.  However, there is little work that can be done without certified death certificates.  We suggest that our clients take their time to grieve with their families before we begin the estate settlement process.  

Reference: Kiplinger (April 17, 2018) “5 Things to Do the Moment a Loved One Passes Away”

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