When someone dies, there are many tasks to complete. Some are practical, such as notifying friends and family and making burial arrangements; others involve starting the process of settling the person’s affairs and distributing his or her assets.
From an estate perspective, here is a basic checklist for what to do when someone dies.
- Obtain death certificates. A death certificate is an official recording of the cause, date, and place of death that is signed by a physician. The funeral provider is often a convenient resource for ordering copies of a death certificate, but you also can order them through your state’s vital records office. It’s recommended that you get 10-20 copies of the certified death certificate so that you have enough for the various entities who may require one to settle the estate.
- Find the person’s Will and Executor. The Will may be stored at home or in a safety deposit box, or it may be on file with an attorney whom the decedent engaged. The Will should state the Executor. If the decedent had no Will, ideally someone close to the decedent can petition the courts to become an Administrator. Without a Will, the courts determine how the assets from an estate will be distributed.
- Obtain Letters Testamentary (NOTE: this is NOT “a Letter of Testamentary,” although many people mistakenly refer to it as such). The Executor will need to appear in the appropriate court of jurisdiction to obtain Letters Testamentary. This document gives the Executor legal authority to handle any matters related to closing out the estate.
- Proceed with Probate. Once Letters Testamentary have been issued, the Executor can begin the process of administering the deceased person’s estate. A Will must go through the Probate process. Probate ensures that the wishes of the deceased are carried out to the letter and that all beneficiaries receive what is due to them.
- Handle tasks associated with estate administration. The estate administration process generally requires that the Executor complete an array of tasks related to the decedent’s finances, such as paying debts and working with creditors, filing taxes, and applying for life insurance proceeds. It can take some time to work through all of the steps necessary to completely settle a person’s estate.
Every situation is different, and some estates can be quite complex. In lieu of a Will, the decedent may have put other estate planning options in place. A Trust, for example, would not need to go through Probate and would be administered differently from a Will.
It’s always advisable to contact an attorney for a consultation if you’re not sure what to do when a loved one dies. If you would like to talk to an experienced estate attorney in the Atlanta area to discuss your situation, please call us at (678) 720-0750 or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.