Steps to Take When a Relative Passes Away

The passing of a relative can be one of the most traumatic and emotional times in a person’s life. When dealing with the loss of a loved one, an individual must frequently wade through a number of complex legal and financial issues that arise. This can quickly become an overwhelming and time consuming undertaking. The survivors are met with a number of difficult and life changing decisions, which may be exacerbated if the deceased relative made most, if not all, of the financial decisions and relayed little information to others, such as their spouse or their children. In addition, the accumulated wealth of the individual may be in disarray due to poor record keeping and financial institutions refusing to release any information to unauthorized persons.

Below is a set of guidelines one may follow in the event of a relative’s passing. This will help ensure a timely and efficient manner in which the deceased relative’s estate can be accounted for and distributed accordingly:

  1. If your relative does not already have a funeral home and final resting place, make those decisions and plan a memorial service for family and loved ones to pay their final respects. A funeral director can provide a wealth of information on what needs to be done and in many instances has a packet they provide to family members with this information.

  2. Obtain multiple certified copies of the death certificate. These will need to be obtained for creditors and financial institutions and may be obtained from the Texas Department of State Health Services.

  3. Determine whether your relative had a Last Will and Testament.

    1. If they had a properly drafted will, with a named executor, the executor will have to go through Independent Administration. Independent administration is created in the will of the deceased. It means that the estate can be administered with minimal court supervision. Once an executor is appointed, he or she must give notice to the beneficiaries and creditors of the deceased, and file an inventory and appraisement of the decedent’s assets and a list of claims made towards the estate. Otherwise, the independent executor is free to go about fulfilling the decedent’s wishes as per his or her will.
    2. Where there is NO Last Will and Testament you may have to go through Dependent Administration. During dependent administration, a court chooses an administrator and closely monitors the activities of that administrator. The person asking the court to be the administrator must get a bond to protect the estate from any potential misappropriations. An heirship determination proceeding is held where the court determines who is entitled to inherit from the estate based on Texas law. The court appoints an attorney ad litem to represent any unknown heirs of the decedent. Usually all transactions and acts of the appointed administrator must be approved in advance by the court. The administrator must also file periodic accounts for the court’s approval. There may be other procedures available that avoid probate, but they would depend on the specific estate.
  4. Gather important documents and a list of assets belonging to the deceased relative. These will be required regardless of whether there was a will or not.

  5. Contact the Social Security Administration and notify them of the passing of the relative. This is an important step because a widow(er) may potentially receive monthly benefits that would have normally gone to the deceased relative. (If an Administrator or Executor is available, this will be part of his duties.)

  6. Contact any insurance companies where the deceased relative had any kind of insurance policy. This could be a life insurance, accidental or casualty insurance, auto insurance, and/or certain types of group insurance provided by the decedent relative’s employer. If an Administrator or Executor is available, this will be part of his duties. Please note that insurance is non-probate property which means that it gets passed down through other methods than a Last Will and Testament. Insurance is classified as non-probate property because during the decedent relative’s lifetime, he or she already named the beneficiary in his policy. Similarly, IRAs, 401ks and property owned by a trust are transferred without the need for probate.

In many instances, probate can be a lengthy process, stretching out over many months or perhaps years. It is recommended that survivors should consider putting off making major decisions or changes to their lives, such as moving, selling real estate, reinvesting or shifting major assets, or selling the family home until the probate process is completed and the administration is closed. This may prevent future potential issues that may arise regarding the decedent relative’s assets.