Common Initial Steps to Take When Someone Has Died

Typical Initial Steps to Take When Someone Has Died

After someone passes on, who will have the authority to handle things will depend on whether or not they had an estate plan. If they had a trust or will based plan then the Trustee and/or the Executor, is authorized and empowered to carryout all duties and responsibilities to wind up the decedent’s affairs and thereafter distribute assets. Be prepared to demonstrate to third parties with whom you deal that you are in fact authorized and empowered to act. Whether or not you will need to go to court will depend on some facts. Many times a comprehensive estate plan is done to avoid having to go to court.

In most cases you should meet with an Attorney at least once and eventually a CPA(who is familiar with decedent’s estates) in order to carry out your duties. Generally speaking you should never distribute assets or in some cases even pay debts with out having some legal advice first. Even in simple cases spending an hour with an Attorney to find what if anything needs to be done and how that process might proceed will be well worth it in the long run. If the person’s estate has to go through Probate or their Trust needs to be administered having an Attorney assist you can be very helpful and much more efficient in the long run.

The following checklist is a general guide to help you in the first few weeks of administration. Please note, this is a guide only. Please feel free to contact us with questions.


* Arrange the funeral and any appropriate services. Review the decedent’s health care power of attorney or other legal documents and pre-paid funeral plans to determine their wishes in this regard.

* Remove valuables from the residence and store safely (if unoccupied or at risk).

* Consider changing locks on any property not occupied by the spouse or a primary beneficiary.

* Contact Social Security and the VA if applicable.

* Hold any Social Security received after date of death. If it was direct deposited, they will pull it back.

* Cancel credit cards, charge accounts, and magazine subscriptions and ask for refunds, if possible. If joint cards or subscriptions exist work on getting these changed to the surviving spouse.

* If you have personal access to a safe deposit box with the decedent do not remove contents; the box should be inventoried in the presence of a bank officer and only then should contents be removed.

* Gather all life and accident insurance policies; do not forget to check travel clubs, alumni associations, credit cards companies, trade associations and any organization that might make life insurance available to its members. Notify all insurance carriers of the death. Notify all retirement benefit holders and pension holders of death and inquire into death benefits.

* Make certain that property and casualty insurance coverage continues on personal effects,automobiles, real estate, and any goods in storage. Do not inform that the property is VACANT if no one is living in the home – it is temporarily un-occupied.

* Call Attorney to set appointment to review situation and determine what if any legal proceedings may need to occur. You are not required to work with the attorney of the deceased. You can work with any qualified attorney of your choice. Even if the decedent’s attorney held the original documents. Call CPA (inquire if they are familiar with the paperwork required when a person has died. Not all CPA’s are.) and set appointment to determine what if any tax filings may be necessary and when they will be due.

* You will need to gather a complete list of the assets owned by the decedent, any trusts established by the decedent or in which the decedent had any interest or involvement, and any life insurance owned by the decedent or insuring the decedent’s life.

* Documents that may needed include:

Original Will;Original Trust(s), Deeds and other documents assigning assets to the trust; vehicle titles; insurance policies (life, house, vehicle, etc.); certified copy of Death Certificate; any business agreements, leases, promissory notes, etc.; most recent property tax statements on real estate; statements on bank accounts,investments, and other assets; personal checkbook(s); and any outstanding bills that arrive.

* Determine immediate cash needs for any beneficiary but do not distribute any funds without first obtaining legal advice; identify accounts where cash is immediately available; determine if any immediate expense must be paid. Don’t pay expenses or debts of the decedent without legal advice – especially if a probate will be involved. Likewise it is important to be careful in giving preliminary distributions to anybody – legal advice is recommended.

* Consider the need for employment of domestic help, security guards, or any other type of assistance that might be required for dependent or beneficiary.

Further Common Steps:

a. Utilities that are no longer needed, such as phone and cable television, should be disconnected. Ask for a refund of any deposit and keep a record of any refunds.

b. A change of address for the decedent should be filed with the post office listing your address.

c. Insurance should be obtained to protect the assets of the estate. Automobiles owned by the estate should not be driven unless insurance coverage is available.

d. Unneeded insurance policies should be cancelled and refunds of earned premiums should be obtained.

e. Sometimes a beneficiary will disclaim (refuse to accept) assets from the estate for tax reasons. Disclaimers must be made within nine months of the date of death and before the beneficiary has accepted any of the benefits of ownership of the assets.

Most important is to attend to your grief and the needs of the family. While there can be deadlines involved in handling an estate – nothing needs to be done in the first two weeks beyond the first few things listed above. Once you have taken care of the most important things, and you have your death certificates, that is the ideal time to meet with an Attorney.

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