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Estate Administration: Three Steps to Take After a Loved One Dies

Losing a loved one is a terrible experience, and it is natural that—in the immediate aftermath—estate administration is the last thing on your mind. Grief requires space, after all, and yet time is of the essence when a death occurs. The funeral must be organized, dependents and pets must be cared for, final bills need to be paid, and financial accounts must be closed. It can be overwhelming when you are the person tasked with these responsibilities, so, to help ease the burden, we have prepared the following guide of essential steps you need to take after a loved one dies.

Three Steps to Navigating a Loved One’s Passing

The first thing you need to know if you have been named the executor of your loved one’s Will—or if you are stepping in to help whoever was named the executor—is that you cannot go it alone. An estate planning attorney and certified public accountant (CPA) can advise you on legal and financial matters, and family and friends should help with all kinds of tasks, big and small. While many “to-dos” require immediate attention, others demand patience and resolve. Settling a deceased loved one’s affairs is a lengthy (and sometimes trying) process, so in addition to identifying people to whom you can delegate responsibilities, it is also important to consider those who you can lean on for support.

Step 1: Obtain a Declaration of Death, Notify Loved Ones, and Determine Funeral Plans

A death certificate is a crucial document you will need to accomplish a wide range of important tasks. Before you can get one, however, you need an official declaration of death. Hospital staff will handle this if the death occurred while in their care. However, if the death occurred at home, you should immediately call 911 to have the body transported to the ER where a medical professional can make an official declaration.

Next on your list should be contacting loved ones. Immediate family and close friends should be notified individually; however, a group text or email is appropriate for the deceased’s extended network.

Lastly, seek to locate a letter of instruction or other documents concerning the decedent’s desired funeral arrangements. In lieu of such a document, host a family meeting to ensure the budget and details are universally agreed upon.

Step 2: Finalize Funeral Arrangements, Secure Property, Arrange for Dependent and Pet Care

Organizing a funeral is not a one-person task. If your loved one was in the military or some other structured organization that offers death benefits, you may want to ask the Veterans Administration or other relevant organizations if they offer funeral benefits and services. You will also want to line up loved ones to help with planning and the many associated duties (pallbearers, eulogy, thank you notes, food, etc.).

In addition to organizing the funeral, you need to act quickly to secure the decedent’s property, forward mail, arrange care for dependents and pets, and notify their employer.  You also want to immediately notify Voter Registration, Social Security, and the 3 major credit score companies so that the decedent’s social security number is flagged in order to avoid someone stealing the decedent’s information and fraudulently using it.

Step 3: Obtain Death Certificates, Contact a CPA and an Estate Planning Attorney, Pay Bills, Close Accounts

After you have navigated the immediate challenges of arranging a funeral and putting your loved one to rest, estate administration comes next. A death certificate is needed for many of the required tasks, so be sure to get your hands on multiple copies.

After obtaining death certificates, the first thing you need to do is locate the deceased’s Will, if there was one. Following this, you should seek out an experienced probate lawyer and CPA who can provide advice regarding financial and legal obligations.

If they had a Will, your loved one will most likely have named an executor in it. This person needs to manage most aspects related to estate administration with the authority of the Probate Court. These include probating the Will, inventorying assets, paying bills, closing financial accounts, and distributing assets to beneficiaries, among others. If they did not have a Will, estate administration will still likely be required in Probate Court, but via a different proceeding.  Again, you will need the Probate Court’s permission to act as administrator of the estate.

Increasingly, it is important to account for a person’s digital assets. This includes items of value, such as cryptocurrency investments, as well as social media accounts that may be of sentimental value.

While the above seeks to cover the most important aspects of estate administration, each case will be different. To learn more, or to talk about what you need to do if you recently lost a loved one, do not hesitate to reach out to the Law Firm of Blanche D. Smith either by calling (936) 301-0111 or using the contact form on our website


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