August 2023

Lawyer for Life. Keeping your family healthy, wealthy and wise.

The sudden death of a loved one raises many different emotions, questions, and even potentially challenges. It can be difficult enough to navigate the process of grief, but it is also hard to determine all of the action steps that must be taken to tie up their affairs and for legal compliance. The early days have many practical steps that should be taken as soon as possible.


Get a Death Certificate


Immediately after someone passes away, get a legal pronouncement of death or death certificate. This crucial piece of paperwork will be requested by numerous different organizations, and multiple copies should be kept on hand by the person who ends up as the estate administrator. The administrator will need the certificate of death and the copy of any will in order to submit this to probate in most states. You cannot plan a funeral or carry out many of the other legal affairs for the deceased without a death certificate, stating the formal declaration of death.


Notify Others


Family members, friends, and the loved one’s employer need to be notified as soon as possible to inform them of the passing. You may also post about this on your social media, or if you have access to the deceased person’s account, theirs as well. Payroll matters and workload need to be addressed immediately by any employer, so make this one of the early phone calls.

Find or Make Funeral and Burial Plans


In the immediate hours and days after a loved one’s death, there are multiple questions that must be addressed regarding their funeral, memorial, or cremation planning. Locate these important documents as quickly as possible to carry out scheduling of these events.

If these documents do not exist and no formal instructions have been left or services prepaid, family members will need to make the decision about how to handle the situation. You may also need to communicate with other organizations such as a religious group or fraternal organization, or the Veterans Administration in the event that there may be assistance for funeral services.

These services may help honor your loved one’s wishes and may also be an important opportunity for family and friends to gather and receive closure.


Secure the Property


Any home or other real estate owned by the deceased should be properly secured as soon as possible. Unfortunately, many criminals watch the obituary section of the newspapers to learn which properties may be open and unattended. This is particularly true if the loved one was receiving pain medication as part of end of life or cancer treatment.

If needed, change the locks or install security cameras for basic safety. You’ll also need to notify the post office about where to redeliver the mail. Any valuables inside the home should be locked up and care determined for pets.


Locate the Will


If possible, locate a will created by your loved one. You may even communicate with any estate planning attorneys in the area to determine if they have copies of a will. If a will does not exist, your state’s intestate succession laws will determine what happens to the person’s property.

Advance planning can cover many of the most important questions related to the probate administration process. You can greatly reduce the stress of your loved ones by taking proactive steps with the help of a qualified estate planning lawyer.


Estate planning is a difficult topic to broach no matter what, but conversations can also make things much easier for your loved ones and limit the possibility of disputes in the future by holding these conversations in advance.

Clear communication can reduce stress and provide clarity around your intentions, making it easier for your loved ones to receive the assets you wanted for them in the future.

Avoiding division is a key goal for many people approaching the estate planning process. Through clarity and communication, your loved ones may better understand why you’ve gifted what you did to certain people. This reduces the possibility of arguments among family members.

In some cases, an advance conversation may help them more effectively manage the new asset. You may need to discuss IRA distribution rules, for example, or cover details around options for managing or selling a specific collection of items.


Take it Beyond Items: Focusing on Values


A discussion about asset division goes beyond sharing who will receive what. It can also discuss your values and hopes for them in the future. Those memories may be cherished for years to come by your loved ones.

Whether it’s family heirlooms, proceeds from a life insurance policy, real estate, or money, setting expectations early on helps people understand your frame of reference and your goals in the planning process.

Remember that if you revisit your estate plan and adjust things over time, it is well worth having this conversation again with impacted people.


Tell Your Chosen Key People About Their Roles


You may choose to include a few or many people in your conversation about your estate, but you must share your goals with anyone who will play a role in your future life or after you pass away.

Depending on the structure of your estate, you may have loved ones playing various roles such as:

  • Trustee
  • Executor/estate administrator
  • Power of attorney agent
These people should know about their roles well in advance, especially since they may be unaware of what’s involved. They may also become a point of contact for distribution of assets in the case of a trustee or POA agent.


Be Upfront and Clear


Look at the asset distribution equation when you’re alive and healthy to think about how you could best support your family members and get them to understand why you made the decisions that you did.

For example, perhaps you’ve earmarked funds and a trust for a relatively young child to use for their college education. You may place those in a trust for educational purposes. Telling your child how to access and use these funds in advance is helpful.


Avoid Disputes


Far too many estate planning disputes and the legal conflicts that follow are associated with a disconnect between someone’s perception about what they would receive and what they actually received. Loved ones may feel that something is unfair or incorrect, ultimately triggering a probate dispute.

Where possible: don’t try to divide indivisible assets to bring siblings together. They may instead disagree about these, causing further problems. If someone feels that one person receiving a certain asset is unfair, you may want to explain why you chose to structure your estate this way.

There’s no one right way to create an estate plan, and it’s important to realize that your loved ones may not agree with what you’ve done. A conversation, however, helps them recognize your wishes more clearly and sets the tone for the future.

Contact us today to discuss your estate plan.

Christine C. Weiner