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Las Vegas, NV Estate Planning & Probate Blog

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Things to Do Following the Death of a Loved One: Part I

Within the First Week:

  1. Determine whether any of decedent's (decedent = deceased person) property needs to be safeguarded, such as a home, vehicle, vacation house, office, etc.

  2. Ensure that proper funeral/cremation arrangements have been made.

    • Look for any letters of instruction/final wishes - our clients are typically given a “Memorial Instructions” worksheet, located in their estate planning binder, where they may have outlined their desires.

    • Look for any pre-paid burial/cremation documents/policies; contact the company prior to making arrangements, if applicable

    • The Funeral Home should notify the Social Security Administration of the decedent’s passing.

    • The Funeral Home will aid in ordering Death Certificates from the appropriate government department.  Original Death Certificates will be needed to transfer title on assets, obtain access to bank accounts, etc.  Order a death certificate for each type of asset/debt known- i.e., if the decedent had accounts at 4 different institutions, and two properties, order at least 6 -10 copies).  

      • We usually recommend ordering 20 copies, unless the decedent’s estate was relatively small/comprised of few asset types.

    • Gather Retirement Account (i.e. 401(k), IRA) information & claim forms

    • Eventually, you’ll most likely want to:

      • Contact creditors demanding immediate payment and notify of death.

      • Notify credit card companies of death.

      • Cancel credit cards on which the decedent was the only signer. Also cancel all charge accounts as soon as possible after death.

  3. Start drafting an obituary, if desired.

  4. In all published obituaries, do not list the day and month of birth (to limit possible identity theft issues).

  5. Contact the decedent’s relatives, friends, & other loved ones to invite them to the service, if applicable.

  6. Depending on home location, consider hiring security or off-duty police to watch the decedent’s house while the family is at the funeral/memorial service (especially if the obituary or notice of death was posted online/in social media, to avoid potential burglaries).

  7. Ask a trusted neighbor to gather the decedent’s mail, if you’re unable to, and hold for pickup.

    Within Two Weeks to One Month: 

  8. Locate the decedent's estate planning documents (if prepared by Phillips Ballenger, PLLC, these should be in a grey, 3-ring binder, with the Phillips Ballenger logo on the front).  If the originals are not found, please contact our office. 

  9. Ensure that the proper decision makers nominated in the decedent’s estate plan (trust/will) have been contacted and forward the estate planning documents to them to read & review.

  10. Look for any other letters of instruction, or other end of life final wishes.

  11. Locate & secure any important records: account statements, titles, deeds and life insurance policies, identification, birth/marriage/death certificates, etc.

  12. Gather and organize financial documents/asset information, including:

    • Bank accounts owned by decedent.

    • Mutual funds owned by decedent.

    • Brokerage accounts owned by decedent.

    • Certificates of Deposit in decedent's name.

    • Stock Certificates registered in decedent's name.

    • Any promissory notes under which decedent was entitled to receive payment.

    • Titles to Motor Vehicles, Trailers and/or Mobile Homes that are listed in decedent's name.

    • Deeds to real property owned by decedent (or addresses for same)

    • Any appraisals of jewelry/art or other valuable personal property owned by decedent.

    • Gain access to and complete an inventory of the contents of any safe deposit box.

    • Obtain the account balance on mortgages, loans, checking and savings accounts as of the date of death.

    • Gather life insurance and annuity information and request claim forms.

      • If mortgage life insurance on home exists, notify mortgage holder and insurance company of death; ask if there was a life policy associated with the mortgage.

  13. Gather information re: the decedent’s debts

    • Determine if any bills must be paid immediately;

      • Wait until after you receive legal counsel re: all other bills.

  14. Make appointment with our office (or with an attorney who practices in the areas of Estate Planning/Trusts/Wills, licensed in the state where the decedent passed away) to discuss estate, administration, trustee duties, taxes, and answer your questions.

    • If at all possible, it’s very helpful to bring the decedent’s original Estate Planning Binder/documents (i.e. Trust, Will) along with an inventory of the estate’s financials (asset & debt documents outlined above), an original Death Certificate, along with any questions you may have, to the attorney meeting.

  15. If the decedent worked with a Financial Adviser, CPA, tax preparer and/or bookkeeper, notify them & see if they have any helpful information/documents.

  16. Submit a USPS Change of Address (or forwarding instructions) to the appropriate decision maker (Trustee/Personal Representative).

  17. Once death certificates have been obtained, copies should be sent to Equifax, Experian and TransUnion; the three credit-reporting bureaus.

  18. The state Department of Motor Vehicles should be contacted so they can cancel the decedent’s driver’s license and refuse any requests for duplicates.  Information can also be obtained from them re: transferring any vehicle titles.  This step can usually be done prior to the appointment of a Personal Representative/Executor or administrator.

  19. Notify Social Security of the death, and any other organization paying on retirement or paying an annuity upon death. If direct deposits have been made, they will likely reverse them. 

    • Funeral homes usually notify the Social Security Administration, but you may want to double check, especially if you see a direct deposit continuing to post to the decedent’s account.

      Within Two to Six Months:

  20. If vehicles are held in joint tenancy, change motor vehicle titles to reflect ownership only by the surviving joint tenant.
  21. If stocks or bonds are held in joint tenancy, contact stockbroker to change records to reflect ownership only by the surviving joint tenant.
  22. If bank or financial accounts are in joint tenancy, it’s typically best to leave the decedent’s name on the account for 90 to 180 days to deposit final payments to the decedent which may be received, or to provide payment for outstanding checks which may be presented for payment.
  23. Obtain the decedent’s credit report to double check for other undiscovered assets/debts, and to ensure there has been no post-death credit activity.
    • A helpful site is: www.creditkarma.com
    • Before the Personal Representative, Trustee or fiduciary pays any bills for charges that appear to have been incurred as a result of identity theft, they should consult with the decedent’s close family members to learn what charges may be legitimate.
    • Finally, if the decedent had been a victim of identity theft before death, straightening out those problems will be costly in time and aggravation; in a manner similar to what any living victim of identity theft needs to do.

Stay tuned for Part II and Part III of this series, which covers issues particular to administration of trusts. 

-Tiffany Ballenger Floyd, Esq.,  Phillips Ballenger PLLC


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