What To Do When a Loved One Dies: 2022 Checklist

February 16, 2022
What To Do When a Loved One Dies: 2022 Checklist

The unthinkable has happened. You lost your spouse, your mom, your dad, etc. You knew this day would come but suddenly you feel overwhelmed and unprepared. The first week following the death of a loved one is a flutter of uncontrollable emotions, phone calls, and making arrangements. While everyone deals with grief in their own way, most people get confused around what “next steps” may be required legally.

Filling out paperwork and making phone calls to banks are probably the last things you want to do. Still, they are as necessary to a proper departure as arranging the funeral itself. Failing to inform a financial institution of your loved one’s death can be a costly oversight and correcting the mistake later could take more time than if you had handled it at the start.

If anything can make these chores a little easier, it is creating a plan before you need to act on it, when you are in a calm, grief-free state of mind. Save this checklist of actions to take and compile the necessary documents. Then consult with an estate planning attorney to ensure that your wishes are carried out from a legal standpoint.

What to Do in the First Weeks After Your Loved One Passes Away (In Order of Importance)

  1. First, determine your role in the process. If you are the Personal Representative or Trustee of the deceased, consult with an estate planning attorney to learn your legal obligations. They can also help you file a probate in county court if necessary. You may not have to file a probate if the assets are jointly owned with a surviving spouse or partner, if the estate has designated beneficiaries, if the estate is valued under a certain amount, or if property is in a Trust.
  2. Order death certificates from the Registry of Births, Deaths, and Marriages in the city, county, or state where the deceased lived. Usually, the funeral director can help guide you through this. Important: Make sure you order a few copies: with cause of death and without. The courts and counties often will not accept certificates with cause of death listed as they may have to be recorded and become part of the public record. Once you receive the death certificate, MAKE SURE ALL THE INFORMATION ON IT IS CORRECT.
  3. Locate the Last Will and Testament (“Will”) or a Trust (if they had one). Usually, you will need the original copy and not a photocopy.
  4. Review finances. Start with assets like investments, real estate, and bank accounts, and then take note of liabilities like loans, credit card accounts, and other debts. Finally, be aware of any bills coming due in the weeks and months after the loved one passes away. Consult an estate planning attorney on how best to deal with these creditors.
  5. Notify insurance companies and submit claims for possible benefits, including life, health, and casualty insurance (both auto and home).
  6. Call banks and financial institutions. Review and update accounts and transfer assets to the estate or to surviving beneficiaries that are listed on these accounts. Note that if the account did not have a beneficiary designated, or if you are NOT the beneficiary on the account, the bank can refuse to speak to you until you have a court order. Do not panic, this is common.
  7. Notify current and former employers and check for any benefits such as a pension or life insurance.
  8. See an accountant to help you understand any tax implications and file returns if necessary.

Documents You Will Need

Now is the time to locate the essential documents so you can work with them efficiently after your loved one passes away:

  • Social Security numbers of your loved ones
  • Birth certificates of living children
  • Marriage certificates
  • Stock certificates
  • Know what financial institutions accounts are located at and account numbers
  • Deeds to any real estate properties
  • Safe-deposit box keys and locations
  • Vehicle titles
  • Insurance policies

Knowing how to settle an estate will not make it easier to cope with the death of a loved one, but an experienced attorney can help you manage the details. OC Estate & Elder Law is here to help sort through all your inheritance issues both in and out of court, with compassion. Contact OC Estate & Elder Law at (954) 251-0332 or info@ocestatelawyers.com to get started with a free phone consultation.

Our attorneys are fluent in English, Spanish, and Russian.