Summary: Siedentopf Law provides a list of steps you should take following the death of a loved one.
When someone in your family dies, grief and inertia can combine to make it seem impossible to do what needs to be done. Here is a guide to some of the first steps you may want to take.
Contact a Funeral Director: Often this will be the very first step following a loved one’s passing. Funeral directors can be an incredible support and will take most of the heavy lifting off your shoulders in regard to the memorial service and disposition of the body.
Get Copies of the Death Certificate: The funeral director can usually help you with this one. You will need several certified copies of the death certificate for various things. While you can always get more, it is easier just to get a several to start with. (And when you’re using them later, try to give people copies if at all possible.)
Collect Important Documents: This obviously includes the will if there is one, but deeds to property, any insurance policies, and any letters or other written items detailing the decedent’s wishes for the disposition of his/her body or property. This one can be time-consuming and may end up happening over an extended period.
Notify People: You will want to notify Social Security, the Veterans Administration, insurance companies, and the deceased’s employer or pension plan if there is one of the person’s passing. You will also want to notify banks, credit cards and any company doing auto charges to the deceased’s accounts. The list goes on and on and you will find that this is where your extra death certificates come in handy. Depending on where the deceased was living and who else also lives there, you will need to let the mortgage company know of the passing, but you may make strategic decisions about continuing to pay the mortgage to make sure the property doesn’t go into foreclosure.
Consult an Attorney: I would recommend consulting an attorney even if you intend to actually file for probate yourself. You may get some useful advice that will help you avoid pitfalls. Generally, of course, I advise consulting with and hiring an attorney as quickly as possible. The attorney will be able to help with many things including reminding you who to notify and telling you whether you or anyone else are liable for the decedent’s credit card bills.
File for Probate: The Courts in Georgia have specific forms that need to be filled out depending on the situation (will, no will, executor nominated in the will wants to serve, someone other than the executor nominated in the will wants to serve, etc.) An attorney will be able to provide these forms and guide you through them. You may also get some guidance from the clerk’s office, but they aren’t allowed to give legal advice, so their help is sometimes limited. Check out my video on starting probate here.
Get Any Deeds Changed: Some property may pass inside probate (under the will), but other property passes automatically by law when someone dies. This depends on how the property is held. There are several different ways of holding property, and sometimes the same thing can be described using different words, but one key giveaway will be if you see the term “with right of survivorship.” This means that the property passes to whatever person or persons jointly owned the property with the deceased. This is another time that your extra copies of the death certificate will be necessary.
This is by no means an exhaustive list (exhausting perhaps—what, no laughter?), but it will get you started in the right direction. If you have further questions about any of these things, feel free to contact Siedentopf Law at (404) 736-6066 or via the contact form on our website.
© Sarah Siedentopf and Siedentopf Law, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Siedentopf Law and EstateLawAtlanta.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
For more articles like these, sign up for the Siedentopf Law newsletter
What Are Your Estate Planning Questions?
Atlanta estate planning items like health directives, wills, trusts and more can be overwhelming and confusing. Let us know your questions by submitting them through the form below, and we'll be in touch.