To-Do List When Someone Dies

When someone passes away, in addition to grieving the loss, the people in charge of the estate may encounter many responsibilities, both legal and practical. These are reviewed below.

Locate and review all of the decedent’s (the person who died) important papers. Search for any written directions for funeral and burial arrangements and contact the appropriate facilities. Locate copies of Veteran’s papers, if applicable, for possible death or burial benefits. Ask the funeral home or local municipality, such as Town or City Clerk, for original death certificates and contact newspapers to post a death notice or obituary. Give notice of the death to necessary parties, as needed, such as relatives and friends, post office, lawyer, accountant, financial advisor and Social Security Administration. Other possible contacts may include employer, doctor, utility companies and other home services, home insurance agent, life insurance agent, credit card companies and banks.

Make a list of all assets of the decedent and how they are titled. Certain assets will go to the beneficiaries without the need of a court proceeding called probate, such as assets in a trust, assets with beneficiary designations or assets co-owned jointly by the decedent and someone else with the right of survivorship. If the decedent owned assets in his or her name alone, a probate proceeding will be needed for those assets. The executor of the will files a probate petition to settle the probate estate. If there is no will, the court proceeding is called an administration proceeding, with the administrator, usually next of kin, in charge, and with next of kin deemed to be the beneficiaries. Other items are:

  • Obtain written values of assets as of the date of death to determine both the cost basis of assets and to determine the total value of the estate.
  • Obtain a Federal tax identification number from the IRS, for either the trust estate or probate estate or both.
  • Verify and pay any debts of the estate out of estate assets.
  • Pay any individual or estate income taxes due.
  • Distribute personal effects, such as antiques, coins and jewelry, according to the decedent’s wishes, if any, in either the will, trust or other papers.

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