What to Do when Someone Dies

When Someone DiesLosing a loved one is difficult enough without all the additional legal hassles. Preparing the deceased’s estate may fall to you if you are named as the executor, and the court will assist you with your obligations if you are unsure of how to proceed. Though you should always rely on the assistance of your attorney or the probate court if you have any questions, the following is a general outline of the steps you must take when someone dies.

  1. Notify the police if the death occurs at home. They will be able to take the appropriate steps to help you.
  2. Contact any family or friends to notify them of the death. If the deceased left a will or other estate planning document, contact every beneficiary named.
  3. Make funeral arrangements. Expenses may be paid out of the individual’s estate whether or not there is a will. If there is a will, consult it for any instructions. Even if there isn’t a will, the individual may have prepaid for his or her funeral. Consult close friends or family members.
  4. Prepare an obituary, but omit any details that may be used to steal the individual’s identity (such as the mother’s maiden name).
  5. Consult an attorney, CPA, and/or financial advisor to help you with the probate process. You have a few statutory deadlines you must meet that vary depending on your state. An attorney can also help you find a will if one has been drafted.
  6. Ensure surviving dependents and pets are cared for. Pets pass to beneficiaries in the same way as any other property and may be named in the will. Anyone who wishes to become a guardian of any minor children must petition the court for approval.
  7. Obtain several copies of the death certificate.
  8. Make an inventory of all property, including real estate, bank accounts, stocks, retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and businesses.
  9. Obtain a tax number from the IRS for the estate.
  10. Notify life insurance companies, employers who provide employee benefits, Medicare, Social Security, and any other institution that may pay a benefit at death. You may need to provide a death certificate as verification.

Acting as the executor of an estate during probate proceedings can be difficult if you’re unsure of what you’re doing. Even experienced executors must spend a lot of time on each estate, which is why the courts permit executors to compensate themselves with the estate’s assets. If you are not completely comfortable with the process, you should retain the services of a probate attorney.