what to do when someone dies

The practical reality of dealing with a loved one’s death is often a catalyst for clients to get their own affairs in order. While it is never easy to deal with the loss of a loved one, it is easier when things are well planned. Here are five practical pointers that will make estate administration easier.

1. What to Do First. Make sure the home and the decedent’s assets are secured. If needed, change locks, pack away valuables and make sure access is restricted to only those relatives or loved ones who are trustworthy. Make sure you keep utility bills paid, as heat is needed in the winter, whether a home is occupied or not. If you know that you are the named executor in the decedent’s will, you have the authority to take charge as the “nominated executor.”

2. Obtain Death Certificates. The funeral director or coroner issues death certificates, shortly after a person’s remains are in their care. If you are providing information for the death certificate, make sure it is accurate. It’s difficult to change later. We advise clients to order 5-10 copies, because they will be needed to notify banks, insurance companies and other parties about your loved one’s death.

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3. Joint Account Access. When a person dies, you no longer will have access to their funds under a power of attorney. Especially as people advance in years, or know they are ill, the best practice is to have a joint account with your loved one in place. As a joint account holder, you’ll become the owner of the account when the person dies and have access to cash needed for the funeral, to hire a lawyer, and other expenses that arise before you have access to estate assets.

4. Find the Will. An original will is needed for probate. Generally, a copy won’t do. If you only have a copy, contact the attorney who drafted the will to get, and then safeguard, the original. Alternatively, determine if there is no will. In that case, you may need to petition to appoint an estate administrator instead.

5. Consult with a Lawyer. Whether you find a will or not, contact your lawyer to learn how the process works. Issuing letters authorizing an executor to act on behalf of the estate can take several months and many clients need access to a home or assets quickly.

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