We all hope never to be in this situation, yet it will likely happen to you at some point in your lifetime. You receive a telephone call telling you that a close family member has died. What do you do? There is no way to avoid the emotional reaction that follows the death of a close family member; however, there are also a number of practical and legal things that must take place after a death as well. While each situation is unique, there are some common steps that should follow in most situations.
- Contact an Attorney First: If your family member had an estate planning attorney, contact that attorney immediately to find out if an estate plan was left behind. You will also need an experienced and qualified estate planning attorney to help you through the probate process in most cases. A top notch attorney will actually save you money by guiding you through the process and helping you to avoid costly errors and omissions.
- Locate his or her estate planning documents: If the decedent executed a Will or Trust, and you do not personally have the original signed document, look in the decedent’s personal files, check with other family members, or contact his or her estate planning attorney. You will need this in order to properly administer your family member’s estate.
- Obtain several copies of the Death Certificate: This is often a service provided free by funeral and cremation providers, but, if not, it can usually be obtained from the county recorder’s office if the decedent died in California.
- Make Funeral Arrangements: In looking for the decedent’s legal documents, see if there are also written instructions concerning final services and disposition of remains. If you are unsure whether or not your loved one already made arrangements, or pre-paid for a service, contact local funeral homes to ask. This may save you both time and money as well as emotional turmoil.
- Contact the Social Security Administration: It need to be notified of the death. Again, this is a service often provided free by funeral and cremation providers. You should also ask about Social Security death benefits when you speak to them.
- Contact the Veteran’s Administration: If your family member ever served in the military, survivors may be entitled to benefits.
- Check for Life Insurance Benefits: Unlike other estate assets, life insurance benefits can be paid out right away without going through probate. Look for any paperwork that might indicate that your family member had a life insurance policy and contact the company as soon as possible.