Spotlight on Elderlaw: “Plan For The Worst Hope For The Best” – What To Do Should A Loved One Pass Away

By Nancy J. Brady, RN, Esq.

Many clients in our office come to us for Estate Planning, one of the goals of which is to facilitate the passing of their assets and property as easily as possible to their loved ones after death. Often, despite this planning, or if little or no planning has been done in advance, loved ones who are the next of kin find themselves overwhelmed and confused as to what steps should be taken when someone dies.  This article is intended to provide some clarity as to what steps need to be taken after the death of a loved one.

If someone dies at home, the first step to be taken is to obtain a legal pronouncement of death. If the person has been under hospice care, the hospice care nurse can do this, and if no autopsy is required, then the body can be picked up by the funeral parlor.  If the person has died unexpectedly, 911 needs to be called.

If there are people surviving the deceased (or pets) who were dependent on the deceased, arrangements must be made for their care.

Secure the residence as well as any automobile and cell phone if the person lived alone. Lock all doors and windows, make arrangements for someone to check on the home frequently.

Next, be in contact with other loved ones, friends, an employer, and any organizations to which the individual belonged, including their church or temple.

Find the deceased individual’s important papers to ascertain whether there were funeral plans made in advance, or if the individual had any special instructions. When going through papers, secure all financial information, legal documents, insurance papers, tax returns, records of any debt owed, marriage, birth and any other personal records.

Plan for mail to be forwarded to the executor (named in Will) or administrator (next of kin) of the estate.

If there are no available funds to continue paying bills, or make funeral arrangements, you should speak to an attorney.

There are other notifications to be made- if you need to speak to an attorney about your loved one’s estate, the attorney will provide additional advice in this regard. A short list of notifications includes Social Security Administration (funeral director often does this); financial institutions, insurance companies, credit card companies, utility companies, department of motor vehicles.

It should be noted that many clients have expressed that they would like their funeral instructions to be delineated in their Last Will and Testament. While we are happy to accommodate our clients, Wills are often not located or reviewed until many days, even weeks after someone has passed away.  If you have special instructions regarding your funeral, or memorial, it may be advisable to prepay a funeral, or write a list of instructions to be kept with important papers to be found as soon after your demise as possible.  It is also advisable to make provisions for your next of kin to have access to some funds to pay for your funeral, or to pay some of your bills, which may be due soon after your death.  This can be accomplished by making sure that your bank accounts have your loved one listed as beneficiary, or even joint owner on a small checking account.

In conclusion, while estate planning is essential to expedite the passing of property and liquid assets to loved ones, there are other important matters to be considered to assist your loved ones at the time of your death. Keeping your important documents in a place that is easily accessible to your loved ones is crucial.  Making sure estate planning documents are kept up to date is also of great importance, along with remembering to keep any special instructions with those documents as such instructions can prove to be very helpful upon your passing.

Nancy J. Brady is a partner at the law firm of Brady & Marshak, LLP. The attorneys can be reached at 1-718-738-8500.