We often receive calls and emails with questions about what to do after a loved one dies. Because every family situation is different, some of the recommendations can vary greatly. The following is a brief overview of steps, in most cases, that should be taken after a family member dies. If you are unsure about whether certain steps should be taken, contact an attorney. In fact most of the steps listed under “Things to do After the Funeral” should not be taken without first meeting with an attorney.
Things to do as Soon as Possible
- Notify the agent/attorney-in-fact pursuant to powers of attorney that their responsibility ended with the principal’s death.
- Determine if the decedent had specific wishes for funeral or burial arrangements. Specific instructions may have been left in writing in a will or other document.
- Contact the funeral home or memorial society to arrange for the funeral or memorial service.
- Inform family and friends of the funeral arrangements.
- Submit an obituary to the local newspaper.
- If the decedent was a veteran or a dependent of a veteran, he or she may be buried in a national cemetery free of charge. Otherwise, veterans receiving disability benefits are entitled to an allowance for burial and funeral expenses.
- Ensure that the decedent’s home and movable property is secure.
Things to do After the Funeral
If not yet found, locate the decedent’s will and/or trust documents. Check with the clerk of court’s office to determine if the will was filed for safekeeping. If a will is not found, the decedent died intestate.
- Contact an attorney to handle the succession. Set up an appointment to discuss matters that require immediate attention. It should also be determined whether the succession must be administered. Bring as much information listed on the Succession Checklist (generally a list of all assets and liabilities as well as heirs who will inherit) as you have available. Click here for a copy of my Louisiana Succession Checklist.
- Order death certificates. The number of certificates will depend on the composition of the estate assets. Check with your attorney for an estimate for the appropriate number; however, a minimum of ten is suggested. I recommend that you order the death certificates through the funeral home if possible.
- If the estate will be administered and the decedent has an executor named in their will, the executor must be confirmed by the court. If the decedent died intestate, someone (usually the surviving spouse or other close family member) must be appointed administrator.
- If not yet completed, the executor should take an inventory of all of the assets and their date-of-death value. Personal effects (jewelry, guns, cash, etc.) should be placed into safekeeping to prevent them from “walking off”.
- Confirm that the home, automobile and other assets have adequate insurance coverage.
- If the decedent was receiving Social Security benefits, notify the Social Security Administration and provide them with a death certificate. Payments made after death must be returned. A surviving spouse may be eligible for an increased benefit. Minor children may be eligible for a survivor benefit.
- If the decedent was receiving a pension, notify the pension administrator and provide them with a death certificate. Determine if payments continue to another beneficiary.
- If the decedent was employed, notify the employer’s human resources department of the employee’s death. Check for group life insurance benefits, pension benefits and retirement accounts. Also check with former employers for similar benefits.
- Notify health insurance carriers of the decedent’s death.
- Notify credit card companies of the decedent’s death and cancel where appropriate.
- Notify credit reporting agencies of the decedent’s death. Experian, 1-888-397-3742; Equifax, 1-800-525-6285; and TransUnion, 1-800-680-7289. Have them list all accounts as “Closed, Account holder is deceased”.
- Notify life insurance and annuity companies to obtain death benefit claim forms.
- If the decedent lived alone cancel/alter utilities, phone, cable television, etc. where appropriate. Reroute mail to an alternate address.
- Contact the Veterans’ Administration if the decedent was a veteran. Check for benefits payable.
- Check with an attorney or CPA to determine if a tax return for the year of death has been filed.
- Check with the Louisiana Department of Revenue for unclaimed property belonging to the decedent. You can check for unclaimed property by visiting the Department of Revenue’s unclaimed property website.
Contact attorney John E. Sirois in Houma at 985-580-2520 if you have questions about opening a succession or an ancillary succession in Louisiana. Click on the Succession Checklist for a detailed form to gather the information to open a succession. You may also e-mail him with questions you have about opening a succession in Louisiana.
For more information visit John’s website at www.houmaestateplanningattorney.com