Losing a loved one is emotionally wrenching. And, unfortunately, being responsible for managing your loved one’s estate and final affairs can make an already terrible situation worse. Amidst all the stress and emotional turmoil, it can be difficult to remember all the important tasks you need to complete. To assist you in handling your job with confidence and ease, our Orange County probate lawyers have put together the following checklist of “to-do” items to help you stay organized and on top of your responsibilities.

Step 1: Contact Immediate Family

Starting making phone calls as soon as you can to let your closest family members know of your loss. Not only will these people want to know, they can also be a wonderful source of support for you in your time of need. Further, your closest family members can also help you make important decisions that will need to be made in the coming days and weeks ahead.

Step 2: Make Funeral Arrangements

If your loved one did not express his or her wishes for which funeral home to use and other final preparations, then you will need to make those decisions yourself. It can be helpful to discuss your options with close friends and family, but either way, we’d encourage you to follow your heart in regard to what you think the deceased would have wanted. If your loved one was a veteran, this is also the time to look into any special arrangements that may be available to honor his or her service. Other final arrangements you will need to take care of include:

  • Paying for the funeral and burial.
  • Finding pallbearers for the casket.
  • Arranging a post-funeral reception.
  • Purchase a headstone.
  • Contacting friends and family about the funeral arrangements.
  • Keeping track of people who reach out to the family with cards and flowers.
  • Writing an obituary.

Step 3: Contact Extended Family and Friends

Once your closest family members have been informed, get the word out to other people who your loved one knew. Enlist the help of your immediate family to help make phone calls and send emails.

Step 4: Take Care of the Deceased’s Property

If your loved one lived alone, make sure the house is securely locked so no one can get in. Also, make sure the car is locked and parked someplace where you can keep an eye on it. Finally, you can contact the local police to let them know that the house is vacant, and if the home is a rental, you should contact the landlord or property manager, too.

Step 5: Contact the Post Office

If you fail to contact the post office, your loved one’s mail will start to accumulate quickly, which will be a sure sign that the house is empty. Further, there is likely mail that needs to be attended to as well. Inform the post office that your loved one has passed on and have the mail forwarded to you or someone else who is willing to accept it. As items like credit card bills and subscriptions come in, begin contacting the proper people to have them cancelled. Make a list of all important bills that come in through the mail and share that information with the executor.

Step 6: Get Duplicate Death Certificates

In the weeks following your loved one’s death, you will need several copies of the death certificate. So, get at least 10 of them as soon as you can. You can either contact the funeral director to help you get them or you can order them from the vital statistics office of the state where the death occurred.

Step 7: Notify the Social Security Office

If your loved one was receiving social security benefits, you need to contact the local social security office as soon as possible. Do not let this responsibility lapse. If overpayments are made, the process of paying that amount back is complicated and a headache that you do not want to have to deal with.

Step 8: Cancel Medicare or other Insurance Policies

As you go through your loved one’s personal effects, make note of Medicare and other insurance policies. Make sure you cancel everything of that nature to which your loved one was making payments.

Step 9: Check About Employment Benefits 

If your loved one was working, contact his or her employer to talk about a pension plan, credit union accounts, union death benefits and any other accounts that the deceased may have had through work.

Step 10: Notify Financial Institutions

Let all of your loved one’s financial institutions know of your loved one’s death. Doing so is especially important for places where interest can accrue or late payments can be assessed for lack of payment. The types of institutions that should be informed include:

  • Banks
  • Credit unions.
  • Mortgage holders.
  • Credit card companies.
  • Financial advisors.
  • Credit reporting agencies.

Step 11: Contact a Tax Preparer

A tax return may need to be filed on your loved one’s behalf. To make it a bit easier, gather up the bank statements for all individual and joint accounts for the month of your loved one’s death.

Step 12: Notify the Election Board

Although this task is not the most important on the list, it does still need to get done. Many people forget this step, and it has resulted in there being over two million deceased people who are still registered to vote.

Step 12: Handle Miscellaneous Cancellations

Additional cancellations that you will need to make on your loved one’s behalf include:

  • Driver’s license.
  • Email and website accounts.
  • Memberships in organizations.

Taking care of all of these responsibilities upon the death of a loved one is crucial to making sure that no problems arise down the line. Consider it a show of love and respect for the deceased that you are willing to take on these tasks to make the process easier. If you need help getting any of these tasks completed, or if you are ready to start the process of filing for probate in Orange County to administer your loved one’s estate, we invite you to contact our Newport Beach probate and estate attorneys at (949) 260-1400 to schedule a consultation.