As an Elder Law & Estate Planning Attorney, I’m commonly asked, “What are the most important steps I need to take after the death of a loved one?”
While each situation is different, there are eight general tasks that I advise families to start with when attempting to finalize their loved one’s affairs and close out the estate. They are as follows:
- Secure all property– Secure and lock up all property and valuables, including garages and sheds. This will help keep your loved one’s property safe from theft and vandalism, while also preventing other family members from removing items before the estate is divided.
- Request certified copies of the death certificate- You will typically need several copies of a death certificate after the loss of a loved one. You can usually order them from the funeral home, or you can apply for them. You will need the certificate to claim SSI benefits, transfer property, close out bank accounts, and handle any other financial affairs.
- Freeze financial accounts– You will first need to take an inventory of your loved one’s financial affairs as soon as possible after their passing. Then, be sure to stop all automatic debits, and place a freeze on all bank accounts and credit cards that are not jointly owned.
- Locate estate planning documents, and contact a probate attorney– Common places where estate planning documents are stored include home safes, within boxes of financial files, and bank safety deposit boxes. You can also contact your loved one’s estate lawyer following their death for help locating a will or trust.
- Relocate abandoned pets– If your loved one lived alone, you will need to rehome their pets with another family member, friend, or shelter. Some people create pet trusts as part of their estate plan to provide for the continued care of their animals after they are gone. You can check with your loved one’s attorney to see if this had been done prior to your loved one’s passing.
- Contact social security– Always call Social Security upon the death of a loved one. You can reach them at 1-800-772-1213. Once they are notified of your loved one’s passing, benefits will be stopped, and you can then inquire about surviving benefits for a spouse or a child.
- Open Benefit Claims– If your loved one had a life insurance policy or was entitled to death benefits, you will need to contact the applicable company to start your claim.
- Consider long-term care for the surviving spouse– If your loved one left behind a spouse that he or she cared for, you may need to start inquiring about long-term care services to help if the surviving spouse will now live alone.
Of course, there may be additional steps to take depending on the circumstances of the deceased’s estate. If you have any questions, you can contact our office at 724-841-1393