What to Do When Your Loved-One Dies

What to Do When Your Loved-One Dies

When someone close to us passes away, there are many things that need to be done in a very short period of time. First, you need to contact a funeral home. If arrangements have already been made with a specific funeral home, then you know which one to contact. Pre-made arrangements with a funeral home and/or cemetery may include the casket, vault, plot, opening and closing costs, viewing expenses, and a budget for a funeral luncheon - even what clothes the deceased wants to wear - or any combination of these items. If arrangements have not yet been made, then you need to contact a funeral home and cemetery that will best suit your family's needs as far as proximity, availability, and price, keeping in mind any known last wishes of the deceased.

So, hopefully, the deceased told you what he or she wanted for their final arrangements and where to find the information. Unfortunately, often times the deceased has not discussed his/her wishes with the family; especially if the deceased died suddenly, so it's always a good idea to talk with your family members about any funeral arrangements you make and let them know where to find your preplanned information.

When the funeral is over, the real work begins. You need to start looking at everything that your loved-one left.

If you are not aware of the deceased's arrangements, you first need to look through the deceased's documents. Some items you need to look for include:


•· the original Last Will and Testament, including any Codicils to the Will;

•· any Trusts (revocable and irrevocable) and any amendments to a Trust;

•· any specific written instructions;

•· any deeds for funeral plots and/or receipts from a funeral home; and,

•· funeral bill and all other funeral related expenses, for example, payments for a minister, organist, florist, headstone/engraving, opening/closing grave, and funeral luncheon.


•· deed(s) for real property and the real estate tax statements;

•· titles to vehicles;

•· annuity and insurance agreements; and,

•· liabilities - mortgages, promissory notes, and any outstanding agreements.


•· life, health and disability insurance policies, and insurance policies naming the funeral home as the beneficiary;

•· federal and state income tax returns for the last several years;

•· gift tax returns, if any;

•· credit card statements, and,

•· monthly bank/savings/investment statements from each financial institution.


•· list of any other assets owned by the decedent, collectible items (guns, dolls, coins, etc.);

•· list of household inventory - furniture and fixtures, pictures, etc.; and,

•· names, addresses, telephone numbers, and email addresses of decedent's legal, business, and fiduciary advisers, including accountant, trustee, stockbrokers, insurance agents, etc.

Once you have gathered as many documents as possible, you should contact an attorney experienced in probating estates and administering trusts.

The attorney will need to view all of the documents you found, as well as original Certificates of Death (your funeral director can order these for you; be sure you have a sufficient supply).

In addition to information about the decedent, the attorney will also need to know the estate beneficiaries as follows:

•· was decedent married? Is his or her spouse surviving?

•· did decedent have any heirs?

•· names, addresses, dates of birth and social security numbers (if the beneficiary will receive assets or income, the information will be needed for tax returns), telephone numbers and email addresses of decedent's spouse and all of decedent's heirs, including biological children, any children from previous relationships, any adopted children and any other individuals named in the Will or on a list for distribution of property.

•· if the decedent was not married and had no children, list his or her parents and siblings.

Each state has different court procedures and time frames for filing and distribution of assets. The attorney should assist you in opening an estate at the Register of Wills (Pennsylvania) in the county where the decedent resided, have the executor or administrator appointed, and begin the procedure of compiling the necessary information on the required forms and filing them within the time frames specified by law.

During the administration of the estate and/or trust, various matters should be addressed, including, for example:

•· File an application for a new Federal Identification Number for the estate/trust.

•· Liquidate assets and deposit the proceeds into an estate checking account, from which the decedent's bills, estate taxes and administration expenses are paid.

•· Cancel credit cards.

•· Order appraisals for real estate, jewelry, collections, etc., and insurance should be applied for, if applicable.

With your cooperation an attorney who is experienced in estate probate can make all of these matters come together for a successful estate administration.