What to do When Someone Dies
When a loved one dies, you may be overwhelmed by the loss. At the same time, it seems so many questions and demands need to be addressed. In reality, very little needs to be done right after a person dies. In fact, the legal capacity to act can be very limited. Here are some tips:
Do Very LittleImmediately after a person passes, there are very few things that actually need to be done. Many times, people have a "checklist" in their minds to complete in short order. Maybe, it is used as a distraction from the loss. However, you should be aware that many times more long-term harm can be caused in short-term decisions than a benefit gained.
In the days after a person's passing, you should focus on honoring the person's memory, celebrating his or her life, and spending time with loved-ones and friends. The major decisions that do need to happen revolve around funeral arrangements.
Creditors understand that there will be a delay for payment after a person dies. The legal reality is there may not be anyone with the authority to distribute money - that includes writing checks from the decedent's bank accounts. Be wary of continuing to use a bank account after the person's death. Someone could hold you liable for such actions.
Do Not Give More Information than NecessaryIt is important to let utilities, insurance companies, credit cards, and other entities know that a person has died. The funeral home normally notifies Social Security. These other entities may ask for a copy of a death certificate. It can take up to two weeks for a death certificate to be released. Additionally, creditors normally ask about where Probate will be opened and for the Executor's name.
It may seem like a harmless question. It is rare that Probate been filed and established in court in the first week or so after the person's death. In fact, Probate may not even be necessary. It depends on the decedent's estate value at his or her death, how things were owned, and several other factors. Without Probate, no Executor is named. Also, even with Probate, an Executor may not be named if there is no Will.
A creditor asks about Probate and the Executor's name, so it has a contact name. Understand, there is no legal responsibility for anyone except the decedent's estate to pay expenses. However, that does not mean the creditor will not encourage a payment to be made.
Many times, though, the person calling to notify the creditors of the death does not understand the ramifications of telling the creditor he or she is the Executor. Remember, the creditor is interested in getting paid sooner than later. Once there is a name and contact information, the creditor may use it to try to usurp the extended time associated with the estate administration process and lean on the contact person to pay.
Who gets paid, how much, when, and by whom will be determined in time. Do not over-commit or pay out of pocket to pay bills. The exception for this might be the funeral-related expenses. Be sure to keep receipts for any of these expenses incurred. The estate should reimburse these expenses when funds become available.
Gather, Inventory, and Secure Tangible Personal PropertyThings have a tendency to wander off.
When a person dies, any number of people may have access to his or her home, storage area, or other places where things were kept. The decedent's family and friends may have their own ideas about who is supposed to take ownership of specific items.
It is important not to let things be "claimed" by anyone until:
- the estate value is determined,
- the process to follow is determined, and
- the controlling documents or rules that will be used to determine how and to whom items will be distributed.
While many people believe a Last Will may control the decisions, the estate may not go through
Probate. In those cases, there may be other rules which control the distribution. It is a lot easier to keep everything to distribute under the proper rules than to try to get things back to distribute properly and equitably.