In last week’s blog, we discussed how to prepare your own financial and medical affairs to assist your loved ones for your eventual passing. This week, we are going to shift roles to provide guidance and insight into what you should do when a loved one has passed away and your responsibilities in handling his or her estate. Depending on your role in your loved one’s estate plans (such as being named the Executor in the will), you may have significant duties and matters to handle upon their passing.

First and foremost, you must allow yourself time to grieve and reflect upon that person’s passing. Do not immediately try to handle such a task as handling the loved one’s estate if you are still distraught or emotionally unstable. In Virginia, there is no time frame for when a will must be presented to probate,although it is recommended to present the will within 30 days after the loved one’s passing. Thus, you need to make sure you are mentally and emotionally prepared to take on such a significant and time-consuming matter by allowing proper time to grieve and counsel others.

Once you are prepared to handle this matter, you will have certain legal duties depending on whether you were the deceased person’s spouse, guardian and/or conservator, or the appointed Executor in the Will. Provided that you are in one of these roles, the following checklist should provide guidance and clarification to the next steps required when a loved one passes away:

  1. Consider funeral preparations.
    If possible, bring together key family members for an early conversation. Choose a funeral home and make preparations for a burial or cremation service. It may be wise to ask for help from other family members or friends to assist in these preparations.
  2. Get duplicate death certificates.
    You may need a dozen certified death records to complete upcoming tasks, though some will require less expensive copies. Your funeral director may help you handle this or you can order them from the vital statistics office in the state where the death occurred or from the city hall or other local records office. Each certified record will cost in the neighborhood of $10 or $20. You will likely need individual death certificates for each bank, financial institution, and other companies that you contact in order to handle the estate affairs.
  3. Notify local Social Security office.
  4. Look into employment benefits.
  5. Stop health insurance and other insurance policies.
    This may include other insurance policies such as homeowner’s, automobile, etc.
  6. Notify life insurance companies.
    If there is a will, the Executor named in it and the attorney will have the document admitted into probate court. If there isn’t a will, the probate court judge will name an administrator in place of an executor. The attorney can assist in addressing all issues involved in probating the will (including the probate appointment), handling the estate, and any lawsuits that may arise out of the deceased person’s estate. The probate process starts with an Inventory of all assets (personal property, bank accounts, house, car, brokerage account, furniture, jewelry, etc.), which will need to be filed in the probate court.
  8. Make a list of important bills (mortgage payments).
    The Executor will be responsible for addressing these bills, paying from the Estate, and perhaps terminating any services that no longer need to be paid.
  9. Notify utility companies (Gas, Water, Electric, Cable, etc.) to stop services.
    You may need to keep the utilities on while you determine what must be done with the real estate or house. Do not turn off the utilities if the spouse or someone else is still living in the house, or if you are preparing to sell the real estate in a short time.
  10. Contact financial advisers, stockbrokers, etc.
    Determine the beneficiary listed on these accounts. Depending on the type of asset, the beneficiary may get access to the account or benefit by simply filling out appropriate forms and providing a copy of the death certificate. If that’s the case, the executor wouldn’t need to be involved. If there are complications, the executor could be called upon to help out.
  11. Notify mortgage companies and banks.
    You will need a copy of the death certificate for each individual company or bank that you notify.
  12. Close credit card accounts.
  13. Notify credit reporting agencies.
  14. Cancel driver’s license.
  15. Cancel email and website accounts.
  16. Cancel memberships in organizations.
  17. Contact a tax preparer.
    A return will need to be filed for the individual, as well as for an estate return. Keep monthly bank statements on all individual and joint accounts that show the account balance on the day of death.
  18. Keep family members, heirs, and beneficiaries updated on your progress.
    As you are going through these steps, make sure to keep family members, heirs, and beneficiaries updated. You can also retain the probate attorney to assist in preparing the proper paperwork and notifying those people when the documents are filed with the Commissioner of Accounts.

Keep in mind that this list is not exhaustive, as it is very likely that you will have other issues pop up along the way. Also, remember that these are simply the steps you should complete within the few weeks and months after the passing of your loved one. There will be other issues, such as the Accounting with the Commissioner of Accounts, that the Executor will be responsible to complete for several months after the passing. Although it looks overwhelming, note that an experience probate/estate administration attorney can assist you in handling these issues quickly and conveniently. Please contact us today if you are in need of some guidance and assistance in the administration of an estate!