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What to do in event of the death of a family member

Flowers from a funeral after death of loved one.

Here is a short list of things you should do in the event of a family member’s death.

  1. Contact a probate attorney to guide you through the process.
  2. Begin inventorying property that was owned or controlled by the person who passed away. It is best to take a video camera (or your smart phone) and record a video of the items.This will document the condition that things were in at the person’s death. Then you will have a good record of what was there and what was not. This may help avoid later lawsuits claiming that someone has taken items.
  3. Immediately contact a reputable funeral director to assist with the appropriate disposition of the decedent’s remains. Most states have laws that are particular about how the person’s remains are to be handled. You will want to make sure everything is done properly for the benefit of the family, and also in terms of complying with the law.
  4. Order multiple certified copies of the death certificate. As standard practice, it is good to get ten or twelve. The funeral home will most likely order these for you.
  5. Get a copy of the Will if one exists. Find out where the original Will is and make sure it is kept safe. If you can’t find the Will, contact the deceased person’s lawyers or other professional advisors. Lawyers often have a way of sending a request on your behalf to all of the other estate planning lawyers in the local area.
  6. Determine whether probate is necessary or in the best interest of the estate. This should be done with the advice of an attorney. Never assume it is best to avoid probate. As an example, if there are possible creditor issues, it may be better to have a probate to figure out exactly what creditor claims are valid and should be paid.
  7. Locate financial documents, such as annuities, insurance policies, IRAs, retirement accounts and other types of funds that may not be physically located where the person resided. Usually, you can contact employers and banks to determine if they have accounts for the deceased person.
  8. Protect against family disputes by preserving property, and making sure that one family member doesn’t start throwing things away. That could cause other family members to get angry and suspicious. See item number 2 above about taking an inventory of all the personal property.
  9. Obtain an estimate from your attorney as to the costs of administering the estate. Ask for a list of things that need to be done and what you can expect in terms of cost. Get a written agreement with the attorney in relation to administering the estate, and make sure the attorney understands that he or she is to notify you if there is going to be any change from the estimate.

To summarize, the key things to do are (a) to properly document what personal property exists (preferably by making a video of all the property), (b) contact a lawyer and find out what needs to be done, and (c) locate financial documents and the Will.

This short blog post is not intended as a substitute for actually talking to a probate attorney. If you have experienced a death in your family, please contact us. We are one of the most experienced law firms locally in terms of administering probate estates, and our staff is committed to providing efficient and caring service.

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