It can be an incredibly emotional and stressful time when a loved one dies. The grieving process begins as family and friends experience an array of feelings and emotions. During this time, family members are often unsure exactly what to do from a practical standpoint. There are a number of things that must be done quickly- from deciding on funeral arrangements to collecting on life insurance and distributing the decedent’s property- in order to ensure that family and friends are not left with confusion and undue burden later on.
This list includes the steps that may need to be taken when a loved one dies.
• Determine whether the decedent made any arrangements to donate the body or any organs and if so, notify the organization. Often organ donation wishes are indicated on their Ohio Driver's License. The attending physician, hospital, or hospice care center will assist you with questions about the process.
• Determine whether the decedent made any funeral arrangements prior to passing away. If none were made, then search for a list of instructions that the decedent may have left. If nothing can be found, then it will be up to the family to make appropriate arrangements.
• Notify friends, relatives, and any organizations with which the decedent was involved of the funeral.
• If the decedent was responsible for the care of any other people- like children or an elderly relative, make immediate arrangements for their care.
• If the decedent had any pets or livestock, make arrangements for their immediate care.
• Locate the will. Many times a will can be found in the decedent’s safe deposit box or with other files in the decedent’s home or office. If you know that the will was created with the assistance of an attorney, you should contact their office. In Ohio, probate courts accept wills for filing prior to death as well, so if you’re having trouble locating the will, check with the appropriate county probate court.
• Examine the will and deliver it to the person who is named as “personal representative” or “executor” in the document so that he or she can file it with the circuit court in the county where it will be probated. If there is no will, you must contact the appropriate county probate court or your attorney to proceed with distributing the estate.
• If the decedent owned real estate, take immediate steps to ensure that it is protected against fire, freezing pipes, theft, etc.
• Track down any property insurance policies owned by the decedent and ensure that they are adequate to protect against unforeseen events.
• Search the decedent’s home and ensure that all valuables are safe and secure.
• If the decedent had employees- whether household employees or employees of a business, make arrangements for them to be paid, as appropriate.
• Begin collecting names, addresses, social security numbers and ages of all heirs and determine whether the estate will have to be probated. Your attorney can assist you in determining the appropriate course of action.
• Make a complete and detailed list of the decedent’s property and a list of any creditors, including amounts owed.
• Obtain identification numbers for the estate from the appropriate federal and (if necessary) state agencies. This may be required by some financial institutions or to transfer certain interests.
• Contact the postal service and inform them of whom the decedent’s mail should be forwarded to.
• Contact the decedent’s employer to determine the status of any benefits and/or unpaid wages.
• Contact utility and telephone companies to have service modified or terminated at the decedent’s property.
• Contact life insurance agents to obtain proof of death forms.
This list is provides a starting point, but other items may need to be tended to in order to not complete, and there are a number of other items that must be tended to in order to conclude a person’s affairs. While some items are simple, others, such as probating the estate and handling any creditor claims can get very complex. It’s for those tasks that an attorney, and perhaps a good accountant, can prove invaluable.