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My family member passed away. What do I do?

Posted by Michael Guzman | Sep 23, 2019 | 0 Comments

It's always difficult to lose a loved one. It becomes more difficult if you're not sure what to do after they pass away. Once the funeral service has passed, and things have settled down, here are 10 things to think about to start wrapping up the deceased person's affairs.

1. Did the person have a will or a trust?

If the person who died had executed a will or a living trust, these documents are very important to locate. They will indicate where their property goes, who is in charge (trustee or personal representative), and who is named as guardian for any minor children left behind.

2. What assets did the person own?

One of the first things to do is start developing an inventory of assets. If there was a living trust, there should be a “Schedule A” or “Exhibit A” at the back of the document with a list of assets. Hopefully it is up to date, but often it is not. Either way, it's a good place to start. This list will be your guide when taking possession of the assets.

3. Is real property involved?

If the person who died owned real property, you will need to record the appropriate document with the county recorder (affidavit of death of joint tenant, affidavit of death of trustee, etc.), along with a preliminary change of ownership report. You also need to address the mortgage loan if the house had a mortgage.

4. What debts did the person have?

If the person had debts, you should make a list of these as well. The personal representative or trustee will have to take care of them at some point during the administration.

5. Death certificate

Get an official death certificate as soon as you can (a couple copies). You will need this document for multiple tasks, including accessing bank accounts and transferring real estate. If there were multiple real estate properties, you will need a death certificate for each one.

6. Notifying the appropriate agencies

Various agencies must be informed of the death. The funeral home usually notifies the Social Security Administration, but you need to send notice to the Department of Health Care Services, Franchise Tax Board, etc., with a copy of the death certificate.

7. Unclaimed property

The person who died may have unclaimed property on file with the State Controller's Office. You should perform a search on their website and file a claim, if appropriate.

8. Dependents and pets

If the person who died left behind minor children, adult dependents, or pets, plans will need to be put into place for their care. You may have to go to court.

9. Life insurance

The decedent may have had life insurance. Unfortunately, life insurance companies do not go out of their way to make payment on the policy. You will need to get a copy of all policies (look for the policy number and beneficiary designations), contact the company, and have the beneficiary(ies) fill out the claim form(s). You should also check with the employer to see if they had a policy through work.

10. Get help

There is a lot to do at this time, and it shouldn't all fall on your shoulders. Don't be afraid to ask for help, whether it's from friends or family or from professionals. If the person had someone managing their affairs prior to death, reach out to them. For instance, you should contact their CPA regarding final tax returns or other tax issues.

The above list are some common items that must be addressed when a person passes away. There may be others that are specific to the decedent's circumstances.

Helix Law Firm can help with trust and estate administration

If a family member or loved one has passed away, we can help with the administrative details, whether they had a living trust or if you have to go to probate court to sort it out.

If you're interested in learning more, please call us at (619) 567-4447 to schedule a free consultation.

About the Author

Michael Guzman

Michael Guzman is a Paralegal at Helix Law Firm. He helps to maintain Helix Law Firm's extraordinary quality of customer service, and assists in the intake of new clients and in communicating with existing clients and vendors. Michael attended the University of San Diego and is a proud Torero.


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