The steps that need to be taken following the death of a relative depend largely on how the death occurred. The death could be expected or unexpected, occur at home or in a hospice, or could be completely accidental. If the death occurred in a hospice, typically end of life plans have most likely already been discussed. For purposes of this article the assumption will be that the death was unexpected, occurred in the home and no end of life plans had been discussed.
Immediately upon discovering the death of a relative the first thing that should be done is to call the paramedics. A legal pronunciation of death needs to be made by either a paramedic or a physician. If the deceased has do-not-resuscitate orders these should be provided to the paramedics when they arrive on the scene. Once a legal pronunciation has been made, the body should be transported to a mortuary or crematorium. Often times, hospitals will provide this information, or it may already be specified in the decedent’s will, if one exists. An increasingly popular option has also been decedent’s donating their body to science. Often times these companies will provide a small card with this information and the company who is taking the body will arrange for the transportation and other expenses. Some other things to consider may be notifying other close family and friends, notifying any primary care physician, notify any employer or union regarding benefits or life insurance and in many cases in may be necessary to provide for the care of any pets the decedent took care of.
After the more immediate matters have been taken care of, the next step is to arrange for any funeral services, burial or cremation as provided in the decedent’s will. If possible, Make arrangements to take care of the decedent’s home and watch over things until all matters have been finalized. It is important to ascertain whether the decedent prepared any estate planning documents, such as a will or a trust. If so, these documents need to be reviewed in order to follow the decedent’s wishes.
It is important to do some planning so the death of a family member or friend, even if unexpected, is still prepared for. To this end it is important to know the wishes of the person and to know some simple information about them. If you believe you will likely have to make arrangements for a deceased relative or friend you should know the location of vital documents such as a will, birth certificate, social security information, life insurance policies and any other important documents they may have prepared. You should know what the person want to do with their body after they die. You should know whether or not they have prepaid funeral services, a home safe or safe deposit box and any living will or other orders. Having these documents in place can keep a sad situation from turning into a tragic one.
Once all this information is known, and the proper arrangements have been made, the final step would be to call an attorney to discuss the need for a probate. Not all deaths require the decedent’s estate to be probated. In fact, many people plan for their estates specifically to avoid having to probate them. Probate can be a daunting process on your own, and often times there are easier means of accomplishing transfers. For instance in Arizona, a small estate affidavit can be used if the property is valued under $75,000.
If a friend or relative has dies and you have questions, or if you have questions about your own estate planning needs, call our office today for a free consultation to speak with a knowledgeable attorney about your options.