What to Do After the Loss of a Loved One

The inevitability of loss is what makes us human. At some time in our lives, we will lose someone we love. Far too often the trauma of death is compounded with the overwhelming responsibility of closing out that person’s life. Dealing with end of life care and the eventful funeral plans is challenging enough, but then settling a loved one’s estate is yet another daunting task.

The good news is, you don’t have to do it alone. There are many things to attend to after the loss of a loved one. This article details a few practical tasks to guide you through the estate administration process.

Step 1: Grieve

Grief is a natural part of loss, but it often clouds judgment and accelerates family conflict. Give yourself some time to let it all go before you have to start worrying about what comes next. Allow yourself some time and give yourself space to grieve.

Step 2: Locate Important Documents

After the loss of a loved one, it is important to locate his or her estate planning documents, if possible. Estate planning documents such as an original will are important in determining funeral plans and afterlife wishes such as the distribution of the deceased’s estate. We encourage you to look for the following documents:

  • A Last Will and Testament and/or a Trust
  • All Insurance Policies (Life, Homeowners, Health, Disability, Auto, etc.)
  • Credit Card Statements and an Up-to-Date Credit Report
  • Investment and Retirement Accounts Such as IRAs, 401(k) plans, Mutual Funds, Pensions, etc.
  • Most Recent Checking and Savings Account Statements
  • Most Recent Mortgage Statements
  • Most Recent Tax Returns (Two Years)
  • Marriage Certificate(s) and Birth Certificates of the Decedent’s Children

You will also need to order the Original Death certificate(s). We encourage families to order seven to ten death certificates. More if there are a lot of accounts to settle.

What is Most Important?

The most important thing to do is to determine whether the deceased left a will and/or a trust. If there is only a will, notify the Personal Representative named in the will. He or she is responsible for taking the last will and testament to probate court to prove the validity and oversee the distribution of assets to the beneficiaries. If there is a trust, contact the trustee right away. The trustee is responsible for managing and distributing the trust.

Step 3: Protect the Assets

An “estate” includes all of the assets and liabilities left by a person at the time of death. Your assets can range from anything you own such as real estate and bank accounts to things you could have an interest in, like investment accounts or retirement accounts.

Taking an inventory of what your loved one owned, how they owned it, and help you “guesstimate” of the value of the asset will help you in administering the estate. How the assets are titled will affect how they are distributed. An inventory of your loved one’s assets makes sure they are protected. It is essential that assets are distributed according to the terms of a will or trust. It is illegal to distribute assets without going through the proper channels.

Step 4: Consult a Lawyer (Even If You Don’t Use One)

After the loss of a loved one, the personal representative/trustee should consult with a lawyer.

After you locate important documents, an attorney can advise you regarding your specific situation. The most important determination is if you need to go through the probate court to distribute the estate. A lawyer will also be able to advise you on the correct and legal way to distribute the estate which can protect you from unwanted legal issues. If your loved one had a comprehensive estate plan, you probably will have a smooth process, but if your loved one dies without a will, the process becomes more complicated.

What to Remember

The trauma of a loss is hard but following these simple tasks can help minimize your stress. Remember to grieve and take your time to process. Make sure you locate important financial and estate plan documents after the loss of a loved one. Take time to create an inventory of your loved one’s assets and determine the asset ownership. Finally, consult with an attorney after you have compiled your loved one’s important documents.

Dana and Associates is here for you. If you have recently lost someone you love, consult our “Loss of a Loved One” checklist on our website. You can also schedule a free Family Administration Session to talk with an attorney to determine the next steps to administering your loved one’s estate.