Jul 2014

What to Do When a Loved One Passes Away

Legal Advice: 5 Steps to Take When a Loved One Dies

Immediately after a loved one dies, family members are frequently overwhelmed by the task of wrapping up the deceased’s final affairs. Whether you have lost a loved one to a prolonged illness or a sudden accident, a death is always difficult. Dealing with finances and administrative tasks when you’re trying to grieve is challenging for most people. Having a plan, and knowing what steps to take can help ease the burden of settling your loved one’s estate matters. Professional legal advice is the best resource for getting all this in order.

1. Contact a Probate and Estate Planning Attorney for Legal Advice

Your first step should be calling an experienced probate and estate planning attorney. Some people avoid working with a lawyer because they assume it will be too expensive. The cost of the estate administration, including attorney’s fees, comes out of the deceased’s estate, which means beneficiaries don’t pay anything out of pocket. Furthermore, state law holds fiduciaries, including executors, personally (and financially) responsible for ensuring the estate’s assets are properly distributed. Without the guidance and legal advice of an experienced probate attorney, you could make serious and costly mistakes.

2. Obtain Copies of the Death Certificate

Before you begin calling banks, utility companies, mortgage lenders, and creditors, obtain several copies of the deceased’s death certificate from the health department in the county where your loved one died. This is important, as most creditors and financial institutions require proof that an individual has passed away before they will offer any information or suspend an account.

3. Locate Estate Planning Documents

Gather all estate planning documents, including the decedent’s will, trust agreements, and other pertinent documents. These will dictate what type of probate procedure, if any, the decedent’s estate requires.

4. Obtain Letters of Administration

Sometimes called “letters testamentary”, letters of administration officially give an estate’s personal representative (such as an executor) the authority to oversee the estate administration, including the settling of final bills and the distribution of assets. According to the legal advice of your attorney, while you may be named executor in your loved one’s will, you have no authority to act until the probate court has officially appointed you by issuing letters of administration. Many financial institutions and other organizations require copies of letters of administration in addition to a copy of the death certificate before they will speak with a personal representative.

5. Gather Financial Documents

By far the most complex and time-consuming task, gathering all of your loved one’s important financial paperwork is critically important. Because not everyone is well-organized, locating these items can be a challenge. Your loved one may have kept utility bills in one place and life insurance policy information in another area of the house. Common financial documents include:

  • Credit card bills
  • Utility bills
  • Investment account statements
  • Mortgage statements
  • Tax returns
  • Bank account statements

Once you have assembled the most recent financial documents, your attorney can help provide legal advice or help you inventory your loved one’s assets and begin settling the estate.

Get Legal Advice from Springfield, Missouri Probate Attorneys

Losing a loved one is overwhelming. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Randy L. Smith, LLC provide compassionate, experienced legal advice to people grieving the loss of a beloved family member. Call today at (417) 841-2775 to speak to an attorney about your case.

This website has been prepared by The Law Office of Randy L. Smith, LLC for informational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. The information is not provided in the course of an attorney-client relationship and is not intended to substitute for legal advice from an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.