Written by attorney Donald Templeton Wight

Initial Steps for Handling the Affairs of a Deceased Loved One in California



43417 Fassano Court, Temecula, CA 92592

Telephone: (951) 303-2020 Fax: (951) 303-2019


Please consult an attorney at your earliest convenience. Handling the affairs of a deceased loved one involves complicated legal issues and procedures. Seeking the assistance of an experienced attorney will help avoid future problems and make the process as easy as possible. This checklist is intended to serve as a general guide and is not a substitute for the personal counsel of an attorney.

This guide is specific to California.

Initial Steps for Handling the Final Affairs of a Loved One In California

Initial Steps

¨ Notify family, friends, church & coworkers

¨ Notify doctor

¨ Make funeral arrangements

¨ Order Death Certificates (10-15 original copies).

For Riverside County California :,Death,MarriageCertificates.aspx

Contact Attorney – Locate and bring the following to the appointment

¨ Wills, trusts and estate planning materials

¨ Names and addresses of all heirs, beneficiaries & next of kin

¨ Death Certificates (originals)

¨ Copies of recent account statements for all banks, investment account and retirement accounts

At Decedent’s home:

¨ Locate house keys and car keys; secure house and car.

¨ Set up an answering machine to screen calls and take messages.

¨ Arrange care of pets, if any (check for possible instructions).

¨ Take care of perishables, clean out the refrigerator & empty the trash.

¨ Collect mail and arrange for mail to be forwarded to someone.

¨ Arrange for yard maintenance and water indoor plants.

¨ Cancel newspaper and magazine subscriptions.

¨ Inform the neighbors.

¨ Dispose of prescription medications.

Notify credit card and credit reporting companies:

¨ Personal Credit Cards

¨ Experian, 888-397-3742, P.O. Box 9701, Allen, Texas 75013

¨ Equifax, 800-525-6285, P.O. Box 105069, Atlanta, Georgia 30348.

¨ TransUnion, 800-680-7289, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, California 92834.

Notify government agencies and other parties:

¨ Landlord, terminate lease

¨ Gym memberships, clubs, etc with automatic payments from accounts established

¨ Social Security Administration, 800-772-1213 (everyone).

¨ Veteran’s Administration (if decedent was formerly in the military).

¨ Defense Finance and Accounting Service, 800-269-5170 (military service retiree receiving benefits).

¨ Office of Personnel Management, 888-767-6738 (if decedent is a retired or former federal civil service employee).

¨ U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, 800-375-5283 (if decedent was not a U.S. citizen)

¨ Department of Motor Vehicles (if decedent had a driver’s license or state ID)

Wait Until Later to Notify the Following

· Health insurance company

· Mortgage company – make provisions to continue to pay mortgage

· Homeowners and vehicle insurance companies

Insurance Policies

¨ Homeowner’s Insurance - Ensure policy is kept current and paid

¨ Auto Insurance - Ensure policies are maintained

¨ Health Insurance – Do not cancel until all claims are processed

¨ Life Insurance – Provide copy of policy to attorney, review beneficiaries

Inventory Estate Assets – provide a copy of account statements to attorney


¨ Bank & Credit Union accounts

¨ Retirement accounts (IRA’s 401k’s etc)

¨ Mutual funds, brokerage and investment accounts

¨ Life insurance policies

¨ Pension

Inventory and Pay Estate Debts


¨ Funeral expenses

¨ Medical bills

¨ Final utilities

¨ Credit card

¨ Mortgage – make arrangements to continue paying any mortgage to avoid foreclosure

¨ Insurance bills – maintain home and auto insurance policies in effect

Keep family and beneficiaries informed

¨ Funeral arrangements

¨ Information about the will and trust

¨ Progress of administering estate

¨ Timelines for distribution of estate

Things not to do

· Don’t distribute any assets to beneficiaries or heirs until consulting an attorney!

· Don’t allow family members to grab and go with the decedent’s property!

· Don’t comingle decedent’s assets with your own!

· Don’t use decedent’s assets for your own use!

Things to do

· Consult an attorney!

· Keep good records and receipts!

· Keep bank account open which was used for social security and/or pension direct deposits (adjustments may need to be made)

Additional resources provided by the author

A complete checklist can be downloaded at my website free of charge at

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