Losing a loved one is an emotional and stressful time regardless of whether the death was expected or sudden. In many cases, family members are in a state of shock when a loved one dies. Many people describe the days after a loved one dies as “operating on auto pilot” as they go through the steps of arranging for the burial and planning a funeral. For some people, taking care of these details can help them feel as if they are in control during a time when they have no control over their emotions.
What Do I Do After the Funeral When a Loved One Dies?
The grieving process is different for each person and many of us do not want to think about the probate process right after a funeral; however, there are certain things that we must do when a loved one dies. The following steps can help ensure that you do not forget an important detail and keep you from experiencing overwhelming stress and drowning in paperwork as you work to settle the financial affairs of your loved one.
- Secure your loved one’s property – Thieves use obituaries to target homes that are now empty; therefore, secure your loved one’s property by removing valuables and installing an alarm system, if necessary. Unfortunately, you need to prevent other family members from removing items when a loved one dies until you have a chance to inventory the property for the probate court.
- Locate the original copy of the Last Will and Testament – You need the original copy of the Will to open the probate estate when a loved one dies. The Will names the person who will serve as the administrator for the estate and provides the details of how your loved one wanted his or her property to be disbursed and to whom. It is important to review the Will as soon as possible so that you can ensure your loved one’s wishes are followed as closely as possible.
- Obtain copies of the death certificate – You will need several certified copies of the death certificate. You can obtain certified copies of the death certificate by contacting the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
- Freeze bank accounts and other financial accounts – As soon as possible, freeze all financial accounts and stop automatic drafts. If you are on the account, you can do this immediately after a loved one dies; however, you may need to obtain appointment papers from the probate court before the bank will allow you to do this. It is important to do this as soon as possible to prevent funds from being removed from the account.
- Close credit card accounts – If your loved one had credit card accounts or other lines of credit, close these accounts immediately.
- Change the mailing address – If you do not live with your loved one, you may want to file a change of address form with the post office so that all mail comes to your address so that you can deal with issues as they arise.
- Relocate pets – Don’t forget about your loved one’s pets during this time. If you cannot give the pet a home, check with friends and other family members for a temporary home until you can make permanent arrangements. You also need to check to see if your loved one provided for the continued care of his or her pet in the estate planning documents.
- Contact Social Security – If you loved one receives Social Security benefits, contact the SSA as soon as possible to stop benefits and arrange for surviving spouse benefits, if applicable.
- Contact life insurance companies – If your loved one had life insurance, contact the life insurance companies and be prepared to provide certified copies of the death certificate to obtain benefits.
- Contact a probate attorney – An experienced probate attorney can help you with the paperwork and “red tape” involved in probating an estate when a loved one dies. Depending on your loved one’s financial situation and wishes, probating the estate can be complicated, especially if heirs dispute the Will or you are dealing with substantial assets. If you feel overwhelmed, we can help.
Call an Experienced Madison Probate Attorney
The attorneys of Krause Donovan Estate Law Partners, LLC can help you with the probate of your loved one’s estate. We represent clients in Madison, Wisconsin and the surrounding areas. If you are unable to come into our office, our attorneys will visit with you in your home. Contact our office by calling (608) 268-5751 to schedule a free consultation or use our online contact form.
Image credit: Rochelle Hartman