Anyone who has lost a close friend or family member knows that what a difficult, painful, and overwhelming time it can be. We are often asked to help our clients through estate administration process when a loved one dies, but probate isn’t the only thing you’ll have to think about; in fact, it may not even be the first thing you should think about. We know that nothing can make this process easy, but we hope this brief guide can help make the process of dealing with the death of a loved one somewhat less overwhelming.
1. The first thing you’ll want to do is call close friends and family. They will share in your grief, and they can also share the responsibility of notifying others.
2. Contact a funeral director. This person can help walk you through the process of planning a memorial, making burial arrangements, and even writing an obituary. This can often be the most overwhelming task, not because it is particularly difficult, but because it has to be done so quickly; sometimes before the reality of death has had a chance to sink in with the survivors.
3. Find out if your loved one had a will. Contact their attorney (if they had one) and make sure you have the original for the probate court. If you aren’t sure how to file the will with the probate court you can contact an attorney, or check the website of the local superior court in the county where the deceased person resided.
4. Order multiple copies of the death certificate. You will need these for the insurance company, as well as for some of the steps below.
5. Collect the mail and contact all utility companies, credit card companies, debt collectors, etc.; call to notify them of the death and stop services.
6. Go through the deceased’s files and paperwork. This can be tedious, time-consuming, and confusing, depending on how organized your loved one was. This is important information you (or the executor or trustee) will need to file final tax returns and pass on to the probate court, so don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
Dealing with the death of a loved one is one of the most difficult and overwhelming things you may ever have to do. If you are having a particularly hard time with the grieving process don’t be afraid to ask others to help with the more difficult items, or to hand the list over entirely to someone else if you feel unable to cope. This is when your own elder law or estate planning attorney (or the deceased’s attorney, if they had one) can be especially helpful.
Although it sometimes feels as if time should stand still when someone we love passes away, life does go on, for better or worse. But the world is full of caring and knowledgeable people to help you through the process… if you only know where to look.