The death of a loved one is one of the most stressful times in life, as it can happen suddenly or after a long illness when family and friends are exhausted from months of care preceding the death. The question of “What do we do now?” can be overwhelming. Hopefully, these suggestions will help provide a roadmap for the days that follow.
The Funeral and Family
First and foremost is taking care of the family and then the funeral. Everything else can wait.
Be with your family and friends, contact those who should know and make sure pets are taken care of. Share your sorrow and theirs and ask for all the support you need.
Work with a funeral home to plan the disposition of the deceased and your remembrance of the life now passed. A good funeral home director can help make the process go smoothly and relieve some of the stress on the family. Decide on an obituary and ask the director to help obtain death certificates. Ten death certificates are usually sufficient, and more can always be acquired later if needed.
Find Legal Documents
Following the death of a loved one, important documents need to be located. Essential first documents are a Will, trusts, insurance policies, and deeds/titles to real estate. These documents are usually found together in a place of safe-keeping such as a bank’s safe deposit box or in a home safe. Illinois law requires the will to be filed with the local county’s Court Clerk, which can be done by the executor of the will or with the aid of an attorney.
Make an appointment with an attorney who practices in the area of probate and estate planning. The attorney will examine the estate to see if estate taxes need to be filed, to ascertain if probate is required, to see how assets can be transferred, and to give direction for the most expeditious settlement of the estate. It is important that the attorney becomes involved early in the process, as issues that may be resolved early will often become more complex over time. Some issues which remain unresolved (such as title to real estate) will become much more difficult for future generations.
“Marshall the Assets”
The process of gathering together the assets of the deceased is called “marshalling the assets”. This would include determining which properties were owned, such as the primary house, summer/winter homes, time shares, and vacant lots. Find the personal property, the household furniture and furnishings, jewelry, guns, collections, cars, boats, etc. Locate all the paper assets like bank accounts, investment and retirement accounts, IRAs, 401k’s, titles to motor vehicles, stocks, bonds, annuities, etc. Accumulate the debts including mortgages, hospital and medical bills, the funeral bill, credit cards, etc. All these assets and liabilities will have to be processed to conclude the estate.
The Social Security office will have to be notified, as well as Medicare/Medicaid and the Veterans Administration if applicable, along with other governmental units if the deceased had been an employee or was receiving benefits.
Current and past employers should be contacted. Pension plans, life insurance, health insurance, medical plans, stock ownership, 401k accounts and other benefits are often managed by a Human Resources department who can provide the necessary information about these accounts. Sometimes, one department may not have information regarding other benefits, so it is always a good idea to ask for anything else to which the employee had rights.
Utilities and Services
Depending on the disposition of the real estate, contact will have to be made with electric and gas companies, phone and cable services, water/sewer services, and any lawn or snow plowing services. There also may be service contracts for the furnace and appliances, cleaning services, exterminator, security, and fire services. Look for paid bills or entries in a checkbook or on bank statements to discover what services were being used.
Newspapers, magazines, financial reports, mail, e-mail and online accounts, and other subscriptions may need to be cancelled. Rebates can often be obtained. Beware of identity theft, as the report of the death might trigger unscrupulous activity. You might want to call credit bureaus to report the death so that they can put out an alert on their systems.
It is particularly hard when the deceased loved one was a spouse. During the time of the funeral and shortly thereafter, people surround the survivor with care and attention. However, the level of focused attention lessens over time. Loneliness, frustration, anger, and other hard emotions can flood in. Snap decisions are not uncommon – the kinds of decisions that would not be made after more time has passed. It is important to have help during this time, whether it is through a religious figure, a trained professional, a local organization, or the family. Seek out the support that is needed. Going it alone is not a recipe for recovery.
Churchill, Quinn, Richtman & Hamilton, Ltd is here to help if you are in need of an experienced attorney to help you close out an estate after the death of a loved one. There are many things that will need to be taken care of, and our estate planning expertise can help you navigate through this tough time. Contact our office at 847-223-1500 for more information or to make an appointment.