Steps to take once a loved one dies

The days and weeks following when a loved one passes away is a time of grieving and coming together. However, amid the emotional turmoil there is also the business of handling their affairs. Knowing what to do next and which steps to take when a loved one dies can help you manage their legacy and honor their memory. With a little guidance the bereavement process becomes easier allowing you to focus on what truly matters.

More than just funeral arrangements

In the aftermath of a loved one’s passing, emotions may run high and it may be difficult to know what your responsibilities are. But it’s important to address legal issues as well as financial issues and take the necessary steps. In this brief guide we highlight what to do when a loved one dies so you can better manage these challenges.

1. Obtain a Legal Pronouncement of Death

The first thing is to obtain a legal pronouncement of death. If a person dies in a hospital or a care facility the staff there will handle this. If the death occurs at home or elsewhere you will need to contact a medical professional. Once the death is legally pronounced, you can proceed with funeral arrangements and notifying friends and family.

2. Arranging the Funeral

Funeral arrangements influenced by religious beliefs, customs and the deceased’s preferences, should honor any existing funeral plans or last wishes found in the Last Will or a Memorial Plans document. In the absence of such instructions the family decides on the service, burial or cremation and contacts necessary services, including obtaining the death certificate for subsequent legal procedures.

3. Notify Family and Friends

Start by contacting those closest to the deceased then other family and friends. Before sharing the news of your loved one’s passing, think about the most appropriate way to communicate it. Keep in mind people will react differently to the news of your loved one’s passing.

4. Other Considerations

You may also need to address housekeeping concerns which can be forgotten in a time of grief. These include pet care, forwarding or canceling mail, closing email accounts and paying immediate monthly household bills.

5. Handling the Estate

Post-immediate concerns, the focus shifts to the estate, covering property, accounts, personal items and crucial documents. Searching for documents involves checking for safe deposit details, bank records, wills, trust papers, insurance and tax statements. A will or trust names an executor for the deceased’s wishes. Without a will, the state will appoint a relative as executor. In such cases, consulting an estate planning attorney is vital for legal guidance.

6. Going Through Probate

Probate is the legal process of transferring the deceased’s assets to the rightful heirs or beneficiaries. It involves validating the will, paying off debts and distributing assets according to the will or state law. This process can vary in complexity and duration depending on the size of the estate, as well as whether the will is contested.

7. Managing Financial Affairs

This involves closing bank accounts, informing mortgage entities or landlords, and terminating credit cards and subscriptions. It’s crucial to alert the Social Security Administration and any benefits agencies. Claim life insurance and distribute proceeds as per policy. For significant assets or investments, contact the deceased’s financial team. If the will outlines particular directives, the executor takes on these duties.

8. Legal and Tax Considerations

For instance, the executor is responsible for filing the final income tax return for the deceased. Additionally, depending on the estate’s value and the laws in your state, there may be estate taxes.

9. Personal Matters

Beyond the financial and legal logistics there are personal items, heirlooms and memories. It’s essential to take care of the deceased’s personal belongings in a way that respects their memory and wishes whether that means distributing items to family and friends, donating to charity or some other means.

What if your loved one died without a will or trust?

If your loved one died without a will or without a trust, managing their estate becomes complex, as there are no records or documents outlining their wishes. This will lead to the involvement of a California court. California law says that the executor of a will or other representative of the deceased must complete the probate process within one year of the day they are appointed. And probate court oversees and usually must approve the activities of the executor appointed to handle these matters.

At California Living Trust, we understand how overwhelming this can be. That’s why our probate attorneys in San Diego specialize in estate planning and are deeply familiar with California laws regarding estates, trusts and trust administration. We are here to guide you through the probate process with compassion and expertise, ensuring that your loved one’s estate is follows state laws, even in the absence of a directive. Together, we can honor their memory with dignity and peace.