Most months, this column is a space to share best practices and tips on how to build your estate and plan for its transfer to your loved ones upon your death. Despite all of our well-made plans, however, the death of a loved one generally catches us off guard and makes it difficult to deal with the laundry list of things that need to happen as a result. That’s why this month, we are reviewing the important things that need to be done when a loved one dies.
First, a declaration of death must be made by a physician in Louisiana. Immediately upon death, you should notify the coroner or the sheriff’s office who will notify the coroner (as he or she is a physician and qualified to make the declaration of death.) If your loved one has been under hospice care, you can notify your home health nurse who can assist you. It is a good idea to leave a list of those persons you want notified of your death and keep it with your other estate planning documents.
Once you have notified family and friends of the death, you will want to look through the deceased’s important papers to determine if they had a prepaid burial plan, belonged to a memorial society, or had written instructions regarding their desires for their funeral arrangements. Again, it is a good idea to make your desires known in writing to reduce the stress on your loved ones.
Within the first few days you will need to complete funeral and burial arrangements. A funeral director can help you make these arrangements. You may also wish to contact your clergy person to assist you. If it hasn’t already been planned for, you will need to decide on arrangements for a cemetery plot, mausoleum, or cremation services. An obituary for newspapers could need to be written, too. One of the most considerate things you can do for your family is to make advanced funeral arrangements, even if you do not purchase a prepaid burial plan. By making those arrangements during your lifetime, you can save your family and other loved ones an immeasurable amount of stress and grief.
Once the funeral or memorial services have passed, life insurance companies will need to be notified. Most life insurance companies will want a certified copy of the death certificate so make sure you get enough copies. The funeral director can assist you with these copies. You will also need to notify other insurers for medical, health, disability, vehicle and residence insurances of the death. In addition to insurance benefits that may be due, you should apply for appropriate benefits from social security, veteran’s benefits, and pension benefits. Before making any decisions to withdraw money from pensions, IRAs or other qualified retirement plans, you should meet with and discuss the best method to do this with a qualified estate planning professional. There can be dire consequences for making the wrong decision regarding withdrawal of retirement benefits, resulting in the payment of unnecessary taxes.
Finally, you will also want to make an appointment with an attorney to determine if probate proceedings are necessary. If the deceased had a will, take that with you to see the attorney. You should also begin making a list of assets and debts of the deceased. If your loved one owned any property, regardless of whether he or she had a will, it will probably be necessary to commence probate proceedings. You should also avoid transferring title to any assets until you have met with an attorney knowledgeable in estate planning and administration matters as there may be important tax or non-tax reasons for refusing to accept an asset.
While this article provides some of the information you may need to know in the first few days after the death of a loved one, it doesn’t cover everything and every situation is unique. Therefore, it is important to establish a relationship with an attorney and other estate planning professionals early to assure all matters are properly addressed. Seeking a qualified attorney’s advice before you act may avoid more costly legal services later.
The information provided is not intended to be legal advice and does not constitute any attorney/client relationship. You should consult with an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation.
Ms. Melancon is an attorney with Legacy Estate & Elder Law of Louisiana, LLC with offices in Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, and New Orleans. The primary focus of her practice is estate planning, probate, special needs planning, and elder law. For more information or to attend an upcoming estate planning seminar, call her office at (225) 744-0027.