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What to Do After the Death of a Loved One

It is never easy when a loved one passes away. On top of the grief you feel over their loss, the stress and anxiety that follows can be overwhelming. From preparing for the funeral to dealing with estate matters, the work that follows the death of a loved one can leave you feeling confused and overwhelmed. If you have recently lost a loved one, and are unsure what steps to take next in regards to your loved one’s estate, an estate administration attorney can provide guidance. 

First Steps for the Family

There are several steps the family will need to take in the days following a loved one’s death. Be careful not to task one person with handling everything – it is easy to get overwhelmed in the midst of grief. We recommend dividing these responsibilities among family members, relying on those who may be particularly detail-oriented and comfortable with taking on responsibility. You know your family best, just be aware that you don’t need to handle everything without help.

In the days following your loved one’s passing, here are the actions you need to take: 

  • Inform family and friends. This can be a challenge if you have a large family and several friends to notify, although it is perhaps easier now thanks to modern technology. However, be careful to consider what your loved one would have wanted – they may not have wanted you to post their death on social media. Again, you may need to enlist the help of other family members to make sure people are aware.
  • Contact the funeral home and any clergy. The funeral home can help you make decisions about the ceremony consistent with your loved one’s wishes. In addition to choosing readings, flowers, music, and other details, you will also need to plan their burial or cremation. Contact any clergy that your loved one would have wanted to preside over the ceremony.
  • Plan the reception.  Someone will need to plan the reception where you will honor your loved one’s memory. The location, food, and beverages may seem like minor details, but can quickly become overwhelming.
  • Submit an obituary. Write an obituary that summarizes your loved one’s life and provides details concerning the upcoming funeral. Keep in mind that the funeral home may also post an obituary online. You may want to consider writing separate obituaries – many people make the online obituary more personal and less like news copy. 

There may be many more details than these, especially if your loved one passed suddenly or had a very full life. An experienced Florida and Palm Beach County estate administration attorney can help guide you through the process. 

Steps for the Personal Representative or Trustee

Your loved one’s will or trust most likely appointed someone to act as their personal representative or the trustee of their estate, which is often a friend of a family member, but can also be an attorney or other professional. It is not uncommon for personal representatives and trustees to have little or no experience in administering an estate – those individuals were likely named out of a sense of obligation or because they are efficient, organized people. Regardless, estate administration can be an incredibly complex process, so it’s important to focus on the main steps that need to be taken. 

  • Obtain the estate documents – typically the will or trust agreement. If it is a will, you will need to file it with the probate court. Even if you are already familiar with these documents, we recommend you review them again as they should provide you with a basic roadmap of what you need to do.
  • Gather the deceased’s important documents, which typically include insurance policies, financial records, deeds, contracts, and anything else that may create an obligation that will need to be handled as part of the estate.
  • Inventory the assets, specifically real estate, bank and investment accounts, valuable personal property, and any other assets that will be disposed of by the will or trust.
  • Identify creditors and other claimants so that you can satisfy those claims and minimize any interest or penalties. It’s also important to keep in mind that failure to pay creditors can result in costly litigation over the estate. A skilled administrator can ensure that the estate is efficiently and honestly administered to the utmost benefit of the heirs.
  • Assert and collect claims for any benefits, wages, salary, or other obligations that may be owed to the estate.
  • Promptly cancel any memberships, bills, and other accounts that will drain estate finances.
  • Maintain all estate property, including investment and vacation properties. This may require supervising property managers, contractors, and other vendors to protect the value of estate property.
  • Manage investment accounts to ensure that their value is protected.
  • Transfer any assets from the decedent’s name to the estate to ensure that the estate is properly funded so that it can begin paying claims to the beneficiaries and satisfying any outstanding obligations. 

As you might imagine, this is a lot for one person to handle. For someone who isn’t familiar with estate administration, it can quickly become overwhelming. Estate administrators have a fiduciary obligation to the beneficiaries and other claimants to ensure that the estate is efficiently managed and administered fairly. 

How a Florida and Palm Beach County Estate Administration Attorney Can Help

Many people turn to an estate administration attorney to ensure that all of the estate obligations are satisfied and the beneficiaries are treated fairly. A knowledgeable estate administration attorney can help you through every step of the process, from gathering information to answering complicated legal questions concerning how the will or trust should be interpreted. Should a dispute arise, they can help resolve the dispute or defend the estate, should it become necessary. 

Comiter, Singer, Baseman & Braun Can Help After the Death of a Loved One

Our estate administration attorneys have decades of experience helping clients settle their loved ones’ estates. Whether your estate is comparatively modest and straightforward or rife with complex issues, we can help you navigate the administrative process. If you would like to discuss your needs with one of our highly-skilled estate attorneys, call us at 561-626-2101 or toll free at 800-226-1484. You can also complete our online contact form to schedule an appointment today. 

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