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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Steps To Take When A Loved One Dies

My clients know that if they lose a family member or friend, they can simply call me for help as a Probate and Trust Administration Attorney. Unfortunately, many folks don't even have a will in place, so their family members don't have any written guidance to refer to, and may not even know an attorney that will help them with their questions.
Recently, Portland Oregon Estate Planning Attorney Candice Aiston compiled this helpful list of things to do (edited slightly for Ohio estate planning purposes), which I hope you find helpful,though I don't pretend that it is a complete list.
  1. Notify doctor, coroner, and/or police officer (depends on whether death occurs at home or hospital).
  2. Contact family and friends. Hopefully, the deceased has compiled a list of people to notify in his or her estate plan.
  3. Funeral arrangements. If they're not prepaid, they can be paid from the estate of the deceased. This is also something that the deceased may have expressed wishes about in his or her estate plan. Determine whether the deceased will have military or police officer honors.
  4. Prepare obituary. Again, the deceased should have helped you with this in his or her estate plan.
  5. Contact an Estate Planning Attorney as soon as possible. If there is a Will, it may need to be filed with the Probate Court by a certain date, and the Federal Estate Tax return is due 9 months after the date of death. You may have a state estate tax return as well; the existence and rules vary state to state. You also only have 9 months to decide on the use of disclaimers to save on estate taxes. Without a Will in place, probate may need to be opened depending on the size of the estate. If there is a Trust in place, there will probably be a lot of paperwork that needs to be completed, and this is best handled by an attorney. Also, many states require that estates notify creditors publicly, and the estate must remain open during the statutory time period, so it's a good idea to contact an attorney early on so that the clock can begin.
  6. Use a team of advisors (attorney, CPA, financial advisor). There will be many legal, financial, and tax issues that come up and it's best to have the advice of professionals in those fields.
  7. Locate estate planning documents and asset information. Hopefully, the deceased has communicated his or her plan with you prior to death, and hopefully, the documents aren't in a super secret safety deposit box. Having an attorney to turn to at this point is invaluable.
  8. Arrange care for surviving family and pets. Guardians for minor children must petition the court to have guardianship approved.
  9. Obtain the death certificate. It's best to get several copies, because many of the institutions you'll be dealing with will need a copy.
  10. Secure real and personal property and make an inventory of all personal property.
  11. DO NOT immediately accept benefits (retirement, annuities, investments). Contact your Estate Planning Attorney and inquire about the use of disclaimers. There may be tax savings in doing so.
  12. Create inventory of assets (real property, valuable personal property, bank accounts, stocks, retirement accounts, life insurance, etc.). If the deceased has done thorough planning, a spreadsheet of these assets should be with his or her estate planning materials.
  13. Contact IRS for new Tax ID number for estate or trust.
  14. Compile list of creditors.
  15. Notification for benefits and insurance. Provide employee benefits, insurance, Social Security, and Medicare offices with: Decedent's name, Social Security number, date of death, whether death was due to illness or accident, your name and address.
  16. Other notification: Veterans Pension or Survivor benefits, club and credit memberships, disability insurers, utility companies, homeowners, landlord, anyone providing home maintenance.
  17. If the decedent was a business owner,there are obviously additional items to consider. One is whether the decedent had a Buy-Sell Agreement or other type of business succession plan.
With Identity Theft of Deceased becoming a common problem, Ms. Aiston also provides some tips to avoid identity theft.
  1. Request the deceased's credit reports from the three credit bureaus.
  2. Request that the credit bureaus suppress the deceased's credit file.
  3. Send a copy of the death certificate to all creditors.
  4. Immediately notify Social Security of the deceased's death.
  5. Cancel all of the deceased's ID cards.
  6. Safeguard documents that have the deceased's Social Security number.
  7. Avoid giving too many details in the death announcement (like mother's maiden name, etc.).
As you can see, the amount of work to be done when someone you love passes away can quickly become overwhelming - especially during a time of severe grief.  To help ease the burden of those you love, get a will or trust estate plan done.

Make sure that all relevant documents are in one conveniently accessed location.  I use a will or trust portfolio (binder) that has tabs for all the legal documents, life insurance policies, retirement plans, memorial instructions, etc.  Don't make your family members dig through boxes in the basement to try to construct your financial picture.  Give them the gift of having your estate plan completed and your affairs organized.

To get started on the most important planning you'll ever do for your family, call Golowin Legal at (614) 453-5208 to get started.


EstateLogic said...

Great post Russell! Since an increasing number of us have important online accounts and computer files we also suggest compiling an inventory of digital assets and accompanying passwords. Our service EstateLogic provides a safe, secure alternative for organizing important estate and legacy information. You can learn more at

Russell C. Golowin said...

Thank you for your comment, and this is a great point. Whether using a professional service or making a list and keeping it secure, don't forget about internet passwords, safe combinations, or other information you have stored in your brain!