Practical First Steps When a Loved One Dies

The amount of paperwork and complex procedure involved in winding up a person’s final affairs is a big responsibility and may take more than a year to complete.  You likely will need help.

The funeral director is your first resource and will do the critical work of coordinating the Death Certificate with a medical professional and municipal clerk after receiving important personal information from you. The funeral director will coordinate religious and cemetery services for you, as well as notify Social Security, Veterans Administration and New York State Retirement System, if appropriate.  Those agencies spread the word to Medicare, banks and other agencies and institutions.  

It is helpful if the deceased spoke about their funeral wishes.  When there is no written instruction, it is important for the immediate family to reach consensus on the details.   Will it be earth burial or cremation?  Who will select the casket or urn?  Immediate wake or a later Celebration of Life?  Who will write the obituary and thank you notes?  It can be as simple or detailed as works for the individual.

Secure the property.  Lock up the home, vehicle, jewelry, firearms and cash.  Make provisions for the pets and plants.  Nothing of value should be taken until the family is in agreement and/or there is an estate administrator confirmed by the Court. 

The deceased’s employer or pensioner support department should be notified right away.   It may take weeks for a survivor’s packet to be researched and sent out.  

Secure, sort and organize the mail.  It can provide practical information on bills, subscriptions and assets (especially at tax time).  

Make a list of how all assets and accounts are owned (individually, joint or with a beneficiary).  

If there are assets in individual name, you will need a Court Order officially appointing an Estate Administrator or Executor.  This is how you get “Letters of Administration” or “Letters Testamentary”.  You will likely need an Estate attorney for this, who will help with the process of collecting the assets, coordinate with a CPA, and other administration.  Estates can get complicated, fast.

Assets with a beneficiary or joint owner can be claimed with the death certificate by the joint owner or beneficiary and are not affected by a Will or controlled by the Estate Administrator.  Although access to the asset is direct, there may be significant tax consequences the beneficiary must be wary of.

Cancel health insurance and long-term care insurance.  Auto and homeowner’s insurance will need to remain active until there is a sale or distribution of the property.

Cancel services like cellphone, streaming services, cable and internet. Remember to cancel ongoing home deliveries and services.

To prevent identify theft, send copies of the death certificate to Department of Motor Vehicles, Board of Elections, and creditors.  An “authorized user” will no longer have access to the credit account.  Delete or memorialize social media accounts.

Feeling overwhelmed?  Give me a call.  We can help make the process manageable.

Law Office of Kathleen M Toombs PLLC

157 Barrett Street, Schenectady, NY


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