First Things First
First, take a deep breath and grieve in an appropriate way. Mourn you dearly departed. While there are some time limits that you need to be concerned with, as long as you have enough money to pay all the bills you need to pay during the first month following the death of a loved one and as long as there are no pressing emergencies, then it is usually fine to wait a few weeks before seeing an attorney. If you would feel better, see an attorney sooner, but ask the attorney if there are things that can wait. It will be much better for you if you are able to think reasonably before delving into the intricacies of probate. Once you have resolved to move forward, take the following steps:
Gather Important Documents
a. Certified copies of the Death Certificate - Get at least 5 copies from the county health department, county Probate Court or funeral director. b. ID Numbers - Make a list of social security numbers of the deceased, the spouse and any dependent children. Include the birth and military service number of the deceased, if possible. c. Insurance Policies - Look for life insurance, mortgage or loan insurance, accident insurance, auto insurance, and credit card insurance. d. Marriage Certificate - Copies are available at the probate court clerk's office in the county where the license was issued. e. Copy of the Will (if any) - If you do not know where the deceased kept the original, check the safety deposit box or safe. If unsuccessful, contact an attorney. f. Income Tax Returns - Get copies of the returns for the last 4 years. g. Asset list - It should show all real, personal and financial property belonging to the deceased.
Find out what matters are "time-sensitive"
If there are mortgages, notes payable and other debt-related obligations, payments may need to be made quickly. If the decedent used the services of a CPA or bookkeeper, contact this person immediately. If not, it may be a good idea to find an accountant to help you make sense of the financial records.
Make an Appointment to See an Attorney
In advance of such a meeting, if you need, further information, consider the link to the following guide. William Self, a probate judge in Macon, Georgia, has published an excellent guide and glossary for individuals who have suffered the loss of a loved one and have immediate questions.