Oct 24, 2022
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The death of someone close to you is a traumatic experience. It can feel like your world has suddenly stopped, and everything is centered around your grief and your loved ones. However, the reality is that the world unfortunately keeps moving. The death of a loved one leaves many loose threads, and they need to be tied up. Some of these need to be tied up very quickly, and if that task falls to you, then you may find yourself surprised by the amount of paperwork you’ll need to submit. Bureaucracy doesn’t stop just because someone died; in fact, it often increases.
This is an overwhelming time, and having a clear roadmap for how to proceed can take some of the burden off your shoulders. Here are the nine things you’ll need to handle immediately after the death of a loved one.
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This is usually the first step you’ll need to undertake and it will be necessary for every other step going forward. If your loved one died in a hospital, a nursing home, or in hospice care, then the doctor or nurse who was present will usually be in charge of issuing the pronouncement and creating a death certificate. You will need this legal pronouncement in order to start making funeral arrangements and begin the process of settling their estate.
Also keep in mind that you’ll need multiple copies of the death certificate to transfer ownership of assets, close accounts, and notify insurance companies, just to name a few tasks. So as soon as you have the official death certificate, you should begin making enough copies for the weeks ahead.
Now is also the time to look for records confirming whether the deceased wished to be an organ or tissue donor after their death, since doctors need to act fast if that’s the case. Let doctors or hospital staff know if you’re aware of your loved one’s wishes, or look for records indicating that they wished to donate organs or tissue after they’ve passed.
Reach out to everyone who was close to the deceased. Make phone calls, send emails, text messages, or whatever else you need to do in order to reach those who need to know. You might be dreading this step, but the likelihood is that you’ll feel less alone and more supported as you reach out. Letting people know there’s been a death to someone close to you and to them means you can lean on each other during this time of grieving, and gather support for the weeks and months ahead.
If the death was somewhat expected—in cases where the deceased was in hospice or battling an illness for an extended period of time, for example—then there’s a high chance that they left behind instructions for their funeral. These instructions were either communicated to you, or left behind in the form of a written statement. Did they want to be buried, or cremated? Was there a specific funeral home with which they’ve already made plans? Did they want a religious service? Now is the time to gather the family and discuss your loved one’s funeral wishes, and collect the funds that will be required.
This is often an overlooked aspect of someone dying, but many people have pets, and when their owner passes someone needs to take care of them. If your loved one had pets, now is the time to arrange for someone to take care of them. Perhaps you can take them into your home, perhaps a friend has the space and the resources, or perhaps your loved one has already left behind instructions as to who should take care of their pet once they pass. If plans for the long-term rehoming of an animal are unclear, make sure that there’s at least a short term solution where they can safely stay, be that at a relative’s or at a pet hotel.
Hopefully, your loved one has discussed where important documents such as their will are kept with you and your family. Once your loved one passes, it’s important to locate the will as quickly as possible in order to get confirmation about their wishes regarding their funeral and any other important business that needs to be addressed immediately after death. If you have the will you can also submit it quickly to the probate court and jump-start the process of settling your loved one’s estate. Either way, knowing where the will is located is crucial at this stage.
Once it’s clear what wishes your loved one had for their funeral, and what’s financially possible for you and your family, it’s time to make arrangements. If a funeral plan with a specific funeral home already exists, then this step is fairly easy. If no specific plan is in place yet, you’ll choose a funeral home and then—based upon your loved one’s wishes—choose a tombstone or urn, whether to bury or cremate, where the body or the ashes will be laid to rest, and where the memorial service will be held. You’ll also need to plan specifics like who will hold the eulogy, who will be invited to the memorial, and what the itinerary of the memorial should look like.
Soon enough, the will will need to be validated and the estate settlement process will begin. In order to assure that everything goes smoothly, the deceased person’s home, valuables, and possessions like their car should be locked up and the keys kept with you or another trusted person. That way, when the time comes, you know that everything is safe and ready for probate.
You should also not hesitate in ensuring that your loved one’s mail gets forwarded to you or another trusted person. Obviously creditors, the phone company, the magazine subscription service, and countless other entities who send out mail don’t know that the person at that address has passed. Soon enough, you’ll have to sort through their subscriptions, outstanding bills, and credit institutes in order to notify them of the death. Forwarding mail to yourself ensures you’re already getting a good idea of who you’ll need to notify once you’ve officially been named the estate executor and start undergoing the process of settling their estate.
Of course, the responsibilities of handling your loved one’s affairs don’t end here. But these nine tasks should be the first things you take care of, and they usually need to happen very quickly. Probate itself can often take a very long time—sometimes even six months or more. In order to ensure that this process isn’t unnecessarily delayed, taking action soon after the death of a loved one will ensure that things go more smoothly down the line. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or confused about what comes next, don’t worry—that’s what ClearEstate is here for.
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