What To Do When Someone Dies

It would be nice to have an instruction booklet to list all of the things we need to do when a loved one dies.  I could not possibly relate everything you may need to know or everything you may need to do in the first few days following a death, but let this list serve as a preliminary list of matters that should be addressed.  My advice is to seek the advice of an attorney before you begin to pay the decedent’s last bills or distribute his or her assets and to notify family and friends so they can help you cope with the loss of a loved one and perform the following tasks.

  • Locate important papers.  Determine whether the deceased had a burial plan or written instructions regarding his or her funeral arrangements. Also look for a Last Will and Testament (“Will”); the person named as the personal representative in the Will has the power, before being appointed by the court, to carry out written instructions of the deceased regarding funeral and burial arrangements.
  • Contact the decedent’s local county department of social services and/or the Veterans Administration to see if the decedent is entitled to financial assistance to help with burial costs.  Eligible dependents of the decedent are entitled to a small death benefit from the social security department, if the decedent was on social security at their death. The mortuary will contact social security to stop any monthly payments.
  • If you cannot find an original Will, go to the decedent’s bank and check to see if he or she had a safe deposit box; any heir or beneficiary may ask the bank to enter a safe deposit box to look for a Will. The bank may give you 

the Will if you are named as the personal representative in the Will or the bank may deliver the Will to the probate court directly.  

  • While at the bank, ask about the decedent’s bank accounts.  The bank may not give you information on the decedent’s bank accounts, unless the account is held jointly with you or you are named as a beneficiary of the accounts, also known as POD (payable on death). Obtaining information regarding assets will require the appointment of a personal representative by the court, if the assets are sufficient.
  • If you are named as the personal representative in the decedent’s Will, secure the decedent’s residence, collect the decedent’s mail and have the mail forwarded to you so that you can administer the estate.
  • Locate and care for the decedent’s pets.
  • Locate car keys and secure decedent’s vehicles.
  • Clean out the refrigerator and take care of perishable property; you may be able to donate food to a local food bank.
  • Take care of lawn or snow removal and secure the home by asking the local police to check the house periodically.
  • Obtain death certificates.  The funeral director will obtain information from family members for the Department of Vital Statistics to generate the death certificates.  At a minimum, order one for each piece of real estate owned by the decedent, each life insurance policy owned by the decedent, one for the decedent’s employer, if any, one for each banking or investment company and one for the attorney.
  • Make an appointment with an attorney to discuss whether or not probate of the estate will be necessary and to lodge the original Will with the District Court in the county where the decedent died. 
Tamra K Waltemath

Tamra K Waltemath

This article was written by Tamra K Waltemath of Tamra K. Waltemath, P.C.  This information is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  For specific questions, you should consult a qualified attorney. Tamra K. Waltemath is an elder law attorney focusing on wills, trusts, estate and trust administration, probate and non-probate transfers, guardianships and conservatorships.  She can be contacted at:  Tamra K. Waltemath, P.C., 3843 West 73rd Avenue, Westminster, CO  80030; 303-657-0360; or visit her website at: www.WaltemathLawOffice.com.

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