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FAQs: What Needs to Be Done When Someone Dies? 

The Elder & Disability Law Firm, APC Sept. 30, 2022

When a loved one dies, it’s a time of great grief and sorrow, but it also opens a new chapter of responsibility for what happens next. Even as you mourn your loss, you will face tasks you may never have experienced before – notifying friends and relatives of the death, arranging for the funeral, obtaining a death certificate, and filing a will or trust.   

What do you do first?   

You may soon find yourself seeking the help of family and friends and certainly of professionals you need to tend to financial and other practical matters. There will inevitably be questions you cannot answer by yourself and details that need taken care of that require experience and knowledge from a compassionate attorney.  

The Elder & Disability Law Firm, APC in Redlands, California, stands ready to answer any questions you have regarding the death of a loved one and what steps to take. 

The Elder & Disability Law Firm, APC, is an estate planning firm serving clients in and around Redlands, California, and throughout Southern California, including Riverside, Palm Springs, and Rancho Cucamonga. 

What to Do When Someone You Love Dies 

The following questions and answers are common to those who have just lost a loved one and are trying to figure out what to do next. These FAQs are not comprehensive, but they cover the major steps that need to be taken. 

What Is My First Obligation?  

If your loved one died in a hospital or hospice, the doctor or hospice nurse can issue a declaration of death certifying the time and place where the death took place. If the loved one died at home, you must call 911 and request emergency services. The arriving attendants will take the body to the emergency room, which can certify the death. Alternately, if the police arrive, they will take the body to the coroner’s, where death can be certified.   

You will need the certification to help obtain a death certificate and make other arrangements in the process that is unfolding.  

A medical examiner can issue the death certificate, or the funeral home. This document will be vital for many practical considerations, such as life insurance policies, Social Security, and probate court if the deceased left behind or will or died intestate, without a will. If the deceased left a living trust, probate can be avoided, but the death certificate is still needed. 

How Do I Let Everyone Know? 

Family and friends will need to be notified. This may prove too large a task for one person, so it can be shared among immediate family or close friends of the deceased. The question always arises whether this should be done by phone or in person. It may vary individually by the person. If matters get overwhelming, sometimes the Red Cross can help with the notifications to friends and loved ones.  

You may also want to notify the employer, but other business associates – unless they’re also close friends – will be notified by the executor during probate or by the trustee during trust administration.   

Who Makes the Final Arrangements? 

The loved one who’s passed away may have left instructions for final disposition – funeral service, burial, cremation, body donation, or other – in their will or trust, but locating the will or trust may not be the first place family and loved ones might think to look.  

Perhaps the loved one left a written description of their final wishes. Check for a safe deposit box or a cabinet where vital documents are stored. It is also possible to leave the instructions online with various services offering final-wish declarations. If you do not find instructions, you and the family will have to decide on the funeral arrangements. 

What If There Are Dependent Children or Pets? 

This is not the third consideration to undertake, but it needs attention from the beginning. If your loved one had dependent children or adult children who cannot take care of themselves, search for a will, which can be used to designate a guardian (a trust cannot be used for this). Also, search for any estate planning documents that may express the deceased’s desires in this regard. Pets will also have to be considered and taken care of.  

If guardianship hasn’t been officially established, the courts likely will visit the issue and designate a legal guardian. 

What Should Be Done With the Loved One's Property? 

Along with caring for pets and children, be sure to tend to the deceased’s property – home, car, and other belongings – if the person lived alone.   

While these assets will be subject to terms of the person’s will or trust (if they established one), they still need to be tended to and watched out for during the days or weeks leading up to probate or trust administration.   

Notify the post office to stop delivery and save the mail for pickup. Stop any newspaper deliveries. Lock the house and car(s) to protect against vandalism. Some other tasks, such as notifying Social Security, the IRS, and the Veterans Administration (VA) will likely fall to the estate’s executor or trustee. 

How Do We Begin Settling the Estate For Beneficiaries? 

If you have not done so, obtain a copy (actual copies) of the death certificate, which will be vital for many purposes, but certainly for beginning the process of settling the estate through probate or trust administration.   

The certificate must be presented to the county probate court if the loved one left a will or died without one (intestate). The trustee will need the document to legally justify assuming control of the deceased’s estate and then distributing it to named beneficiaries. 

Do I Need An Attorney?  

This question covers only the most critical overall steps, because there are other requirements and considerations that may arise during this difficult period when you would probably prefer to be grieving privately and not have to arrange for the final disposition of someone who meant so much to you.   

It is perfectly okay and practical to rely on professionals to help you during this period, including an estate planning attorney who can assist the executor or trustee in carrying out their many tasks. An experienced attorney can also answer all your questions as you navigate the process of seeing that your loved one’s final wishes are carried out. 

Compassionate Legal Guidance When You Need It Most 

You may think you’ve made every preparation for the loss of a loved one, but when it actually happens, the emotions and grief that set in can present additional challenges. This is even more so if the loss is unexpected.  

The Elderly & Disability Law Firm, APC, stands ready to answer your questions and assist you when you face the loss of a loved one. We know the grief you’re feeling, and we have the knowledge and resources to help make your experience smoother and less distressing.  

The Elder & Disability Law Firm, APC, serves clients throughout Southern California from our office in Redlands. Feel free to reach out with all your questions.