There are no words to express the emotions associated with the loss of a loved one. Even when the death is expected due to terminal illness, you and your family will likely deal with significant pain and grief. It is critical for your emotional and spiritual well-being to mourn the death of those close to you and appropriately honor them. However, the time period following the death of a loved one is also an absolutely critical time from a legal perspective.
Ideally, everyone with assets should stay in communication with their family members or trusted friends regarding the existence and location of critical documents. Hopefully, your deceased loved one will have shared the basic aspects of their estate plan – including funeral and burial instructions – prior to their passing. Still, the family of the decedent must find current will and trust documents. These documents provide critical instructions regarding actions which must be taken in the wake of the individual’s passing. Regardless of what verbal promises or instructions were given, properly drafted wills and trusts are the final expression of the decedent’s wishes. Often, individuals will amend the existing will or trust documents their family may be aware of or draft superseding documents later in life. Therefore, it is important to carefully review the decedent’s files, check safe deposit boxes, and contact the decedent’s legal counsel.
We suggest that the families contact us as soon as possible after the death of a loved one to schedule and initial settlement review meeting. Again, it is important to find estate planning documents such as wills and trusts. During this meeting, we encourage you to ask any questions you may have regarding the underlying validity or terms of estate planning documents.
IMPORTANT: Do not distribute or re-title any assets, or close any accounts, of the decedent without first meeting with us! There are usually significant legal, fiduciary, and financial ramifications associated with such activities. You need to avail yourself of the law, the estate’s instructions, and your options before you take action.
When you meet with us, try to have the following documentation available (original versions of legal documents are strongly preferred). Still, it is more important to expediently sit down with your estate planning attorney than it is to have every suggested document available.
- decedent’s death certificate
- paid funeral bills
- real estate deeds
- life insurance policies
- title to all vehicles and boats
- hospital bills
- list of significantly-valued items the decedent solely owned
Most of the time, death comes as a surprise. But surprises are unnecessary when it comes to executing your estate plan. Even young people with assets should keep their important documents and information organized and in a place their family could find them if the unexpected occurs. Furthermore, everyone should share at least of a copy of their estate plan with their spouse, estate planning attorney, or other trusted individual.
If you’ve lost a loved one, please do not hesitate to contact us. We will do our best to remove uncertainty from the difficult circumstances surrounding your loss.