What to Do After a Loved One Has Passed
Even when it is expected, losing a loved one is a traumatic and trying time. Add to that the fact that so much needs to be handled right away.
At Elder Needs Law, we understand how difficult the death of a loved one is, and we also recognize that taking action immediately after a death is crucial.
To make things easier for you, we have created a quick checklist of essential tasks you should take care of—and when you should tackle them.
Contact us if you need further assistance with estate planning, probate, or elder law questions.
Immediately After a Loved One Passes
Notify Family and Friends
The first thing you should do is notify family members and close friends of the passing. Phone calls, emails, text messages, and posting on social media will all suffice. This is an excellent task to delegate to your inner circle.
Make Funeral or Cremation Arrangements
Ideally, your loved one made these arrangements before they passed, or at least made their wishes known. Often, people purchase prepaid burial insurance or pay for their final arrangements directly with the funeral home or crematorium. Other people indicate their final wishes in their Last Will and Testament.
If your loved one did not make their wishes known, this would be a good time to call a family meeting to discuss arrangements with next of kin. If the deceased was in the military, you could contact the Veterans Administration to determine any benefits that might be available.
During the family meeting, you should also discuss who will be speaking at the funeral, who will be a pallbearer, who will write the obituary, etc.
Make Arrangements for Pets
If your loved one had pets, ensure that the animal has a place to stay and food to eat. A short-term solution might be temporarily staying with a close friend or relative of the deceased who enjoys pets or boarding at a kennel.
Long-term, the deceased's Last Will or revocable trust may determine who becomes the pet's new owner.
Two to Three Weeks After a Loved One Passes
Deposit the Original Will
If you have an original will, Florida Statute 732.901 provides that the custodian of that original must deposit it with the Clerk of Court in the county where the decedent lived. This must be done within ten days of receiving information that the testator is deceased.
The custodian must also supply the Clerk of Court with the testator's date of death or social security number upon depositing the will with the Clerk of Court.
Contact the Elder Needs Law office for help with this process anywhere in Florida.
Get Copies of the Death Certificate
Obtain multiple copies of your loved one's death certificate. The funeral director or hospital can assist with this, or you can contact the Florida Department of Health.
You will need at least one short-form death certificate—the one that does not list the cause—and likely multiple copies of the long-form death certificate, which list the cause of death.
A short-form death certificate is needed when recording in the public record. For example, suppose your loved one had real estate subject to a life-estate deed, ladybird deed, or jointly owned property with someone else. In that case, a short-form death certificate must be recorded in the county in which the real estate is located.
A short-form death certificate will also need to be provided to your Florida probate attorney if probate is necessary.
Financial institutions and life insurance companies usually need long-form death certificates to trigger the "pay on death" or "transfer on death" designation and payments.
Create a List of All Known Assets
These assets can include the following:
- Financial accounts (bank, brokerage, IRA, 401k)
- Life insurance policies
- Annuity policies
- Real estate holdings
- Personal property, such as vehicles, boats, art, jewelry, furniture
You can often get help locating these assets by speaking with known financial advisors and accountants or looking at recent tax returns. Occasionally, we need to recommend an investigator who can run an asset check.
Contact an Elder Law, Estate Planning, or Probate Attorney
If probate is needed anywhere and your loved one was a resident of Florida, please get in touch with us. If your loved one met with an estate planning or elder law attorney before their passing, there might be a plan to avoid going to probate court.
Unfortunately, if all they had was a Last Will and Testament and had assets solely in their name, probate may still be needed.
When Can Probate Be Avoided?
Some common examples of this include:
- If your loved one only had a financial account that listed a "pay on death" or "transfer on death" beneficiary listed, and that person or people have not predeceased your loved one
- Suppose your loved one had a financial account jointly owned with someone else who has survived. In this case, the surviving account owner will continue to have full access to the account.
- If your loved one had real estate subject to a lady bird deed
- If your loved one had a revocable living trust and properly funded that trust
Sometimes, vehicle titles can be transferred outside of the probate process.
When is Probate Necessary?
If your loved one passes away owning real estate without a joint owner or life estate remainderman listed on the deed, a court process will be needed to transfer ownership of real property.
Similarly, if your loved one passed away with bank or brokerage accounts that were not in a trust, did not have a co-owner, or were not payable on death, the probate court will be needed to gain access to that account.
Locate Bills and Potential Creditors
Check credit card bills, bank account bill pay and debits, and copies of checks written in the past two to three months to determine what is owed and what services should be canceled. Do not pay any bills with your funds unless you are a joint account owner. Just because you are married does not mean you owe the debt.
Certain bills need to be paid, including:
- Water and electric (to avoid mold or expensive home maintenance
- Homeowners insurance
- Property taxes
Certain insurance policies, including health and car insurance, can be canceled immediately. Others, like homeowners insurance, may need to remain in place until the deed can be changed.
Insurance policies that are canceled mid-policy may result in a partial premium refund. Most likely, the refund check will be made out to the "estate" of the deceased and would require probate to cash or deposit.
Apply for Survivor Benefits
Usually, the funeral home will report your loved one's death to the Social Security Administration (SSA). But you can call the SSA at 800.772.1213 to report the death of a loved one or apply for survivor's benefits.
SSA benefits include:
Two to Three Months After a Loved One Passes
Notify Credit Bureaus
Consider sending a copy of your loved one's death certificate to at least one of the three major credit bureaus: TransUnion, Experian, or Equifax. This will help prevent identity theft.
Handle Social Media Accounts
Some accounts can be deleted, while others can be turned into a memorial. You'll need to contact the different social media organizations and provide a copy of the death certificate.
You will find instructions on how to report a deceased person's social media accounts on each site:
Take Time to Grieve
Spend time with friends and family. If you find coping difficult, please know that you are not alone. Seek grief counseling through your church, synagogue, mosque, or temple, or thorough private counseling services as appropriate.