What to Do When a Loved One Passes Away

August 25, 2023


Losing a loved one is undoubtedly one of life’s most challenging experiences. Amidst the emotional turmoil, it is important to remember that practical matters also demand your attention. As experienced estate planning attorneys, we understand the intricacies of managing financial affairs during this trying time. In today’s discussion, we’ll touch on some key steps to take when a loved one passes away.

Secure Important Documents

Begin by locating and securing crucial documents, such as the will, trust documents, life insurance policy information, and any other investment and bank account statements. These documents are the foundation of understanding your loved one’s financial situation and ensuring their wishes are carried out as intended. Often, our clients designate their burial and cremation preferences in their powers of attorney, will, or trust. Respecting and adhering to these directives regarding funeral arrangements and body disposition is of the utmost importance. If you believe your loved one’s documents are in a safe deposit box, you will most likely need a key and the death certificate to gain access.

Notify Relevant Parties

While it may be emotionally challenging, notifying the relevant parties is a crucial and necessary step. Contact the Social Security Administration to stop Medicare benefits if applicable. Notify the MVC/DMV to cancel driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations in their name. Reach out to financial institutions, such as banks and investment companies, to obtain final statements and date-of-death balances. Begin the process of cancelling any applicable subscriptions and memberships in their name and provide a forwarding address for final bills and payments. You may need to provide copies of the death certificate for verification purposes.

Consult With Professionals

Early in the process, enlist the guidance of an attorney experienced in administering trusts and estates. An attorney will provide valuable insights into the specific legal aspects of the decedent’s estate, proposing a course of action to navigate the complexities of estate administration. A primary consideration is whether probate assets are involved – these are assets held solely in the decedent’s name. If probate assets exist, you must file the will for probate or pursue administration if there is no will. On the other hand, if assets are instead held in trust, an attorney will skillfully guide you through the process of administering that trust and handling non-probate assets. Consulting with competent attorneys can help to alleviate the burden of estate administration and the uncertainties that come with it.

Inventory the Assets

Collaborating with your attorney, start by creating a comprehensive inventory of your loved one’s assets. This entails locating essential documents such as real estate deeds, investment and bank account statements, retirement account details, life insurance policies, vehicles, business or intellectual property, and personal property. This inventory serves as a valuable tool in understanding and organizing all financial holdings of the estate or trust. It is important to note the current balances and identify any beneficiary or transfer-on-death designations. Accurate asset valuation is essential for the purposes of distribution and tax calculations. Depending on your role and the language of the will or trust, you may also be required to provide an asset inventory to other family members or beneficiaries. Gathering assets is the first step in addressing the estate’s debts and progressing towards distribution to heirs and/or beneficiaries.

Take Care of Yourself

The months following a beloved family member’s death are usually emotionally and physically taxing. During this time, it is easy to overlook your own well-being. Remember that grieving is a personal process, so it is important to take the time you need to mourn your loss. Surround yourself with the support of family, friends, and advisors who can offer comfort and guidance during this challenging period. Be sure to prioritize your own emotional and physical well-being as you deal with the various challenges that arise. Your mental and physical health play a significant role in your ability to think clearly and make sound decisions. Taking moments of respite and engaging in activities that bring you solace can help you recharge and approach the tasks ahead with a clearer mind and a stronger heart. Amidst all of the responsibilities that demand your attention, never forget that your own well-being is non-negotiable – it’s a tribute to both your loved one’s memory and your own resilience.


In the face of tough emotional and financial challenges brought on by the loss of a close family member, seeking the guidance of experienced attorneys becomes vital in determining the right course of action for your specific situation. Swiftly and diligently compiling a list of crucial assets and documents is of the utmost importance. On a personal level, remember to grant yourself the space to rest and to be patient with yourself as you navigate the mourning process. Seek support from family, friends, or professionals whenever needed. Though it will take time, properly handling estate matters is a way to honor your loved one’s memory and legacy.

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