Checklist: What To Do When Someone Dies
© by Newland & Associates
Prepared June 2002
What do I need to do now?
That is the question I sometimes hear from clients after the death of a loved
one. The following matters should be considered when a close friend or relative
dies. Not all of the points will apply to all Decedents, but many of them will.
I have tried to put them into a logical sequence, but as always, practical sense
1. If a doctor is not
present, notify a doctor or coroner in order to obtain a death certificate.
2. If the death occurs at
home, you may need to contact a local police officer or coroner.
3. If the Decedent wished,
a donation of body parts and tissues should be considered.
4. Notify family and
friends. You may want to consider having family members contact others to save
yourself some time on the phone during a stressful period.
5. Look for instructions
which the Decedent may have left regarding preferences for funeral and burial
6. Determine if the
Decedent belonged to a burial or memorial society that may make special
arrangements for the funeral, such as military honor guards.
7. Contact a funeral home
concerning burial or cremation arrangements.
8. Complete funeral and
9. Contact the Social
Security Administration and any other government agencies or benefit program
that may be making payments to the Decedent. (Note that the payment for the
month of death will not be made by the Social Security Administration and
10. Review the Decedent’s
financial affairs and look for any estate planning documents, such as Wills and
Trusts, along with any other relevant documents, including:
Funeral and Burial
Safe Deposit Agreements and
Life Insurance Policies;
Existence of Trust;
Old tax returns;
Prior Gift Tax returns;
Marriage, birth and death
Computer records regarding
books of a business or personal assets;
checkbooks, similar documents;
Titles to motor vehicles;
Securities and list of
Any documentation of
business ownership or business interest;
Health Insurance, make
claims for the final illness; and
11. If there is a Will,
take the Will to the appropriate County or City office to have it accepted for
12. Administering the Will
- If the Will is properly drawn, it will name a Personal Representative (also
known as Executor or Executrix). The Personal Representative, who can be an
individual, a group of individuals or one or more institutions, or a combination
of the aforementioned, will be responsible for the administration of the Estate
of the Decedent.
13. If there is no Will and
there are sufficient assets to probate (typically, at least $15,000 in Virginia), then the
Court will appoint an administrator and the assets of the Decedent will be
distributed according to state law. This situation is referred to by some as
“having the state write a Will for you.” All states have a set of laws
relating to intestate succession (transfer of property after dying without a
Will), and the states decide who gets which assets if someone dies without a
14. If you are the Personal Representative or Successor Trustee of a Trust,
try to make a list of the assets owned by the Decedent or the Trust, in order
that they can be administered and distributed according to the wishes of the
15. Open a bank account for
the estate of the Decedent. This should be done early on and all receipts and
disbursements should be recorded in that bank account, in order to
account properly for the assets of the Decedent and the expenses of administration.
16. Probate is a process
similar to that of accounting. The Personal Representative is responsible for
collecting the assets and reporting
to the Court as to the amount of assets in the Estate of the Decedent. The
Personal Representative then assembles the assets and, after paying debts,
expenses and taxes, distributes the assets according to the wishes of the
Decedent. If the Decedent left no Will, the process of administration is
essentially the same, except that state law determines to whom the assets are
distributed. If everything is done correctly, eventually, after the Personal
Representative has accounted for and distributed the assets, the Personal
Representative is discharged.
17. Make an inventory of
household goods, personal belongings and the like, in order that they can be
accounted for and properly distributed.
18. Look for insurance
policies or annuities which may continue for other family members and other
assets. Contact the Insurer with
respect to any current policies or annuities.
19. Try to assemble the
deeds of the Decedent to see what real estate, if any, is owned by the Decedent.
If real estate is owned in more than one state, special proceedings,
called "ancillary administrations," may be needed in each state.
20. Determine if the
Decedent owned any securities, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc.
21. Retirement Plans, IRA
accounts and similar retirement benefits involve important choices which need to
be made by certain beneficiaries, particularly in regard to IRA accounts under
recent IRS regulations. If there are annuities, pension and profit sharing plans
and interest of that type, they may provide for joint payment to a surviving
spouse or others.
22. If the Decedent
controlled or was a principal person in a business, it may be necessary to check
to see if there are Buy-Sell Agreements under which the interest of the Decedent
would be purchased by the business entity or other business owners.
23. If, after the
appointment of a Personal Representative, a bank account or safe deposit box is
found, then the assets in the bank account or safe deposit box need to be
distributed according to the wishes of the Decedent.
24. If the Decedent was
indebted to anyone, then the creditor needs to be paid. If the creditors are not
paid and they make a claim against the estate after all of the assets are
distributed, the Personal Representative may be in trouble and held personally
liable for the debt.
25. As part of the probate
process, all family members within a certain degree of kinship must be
contacted, whether or not they receive assets from the Estate of the Decedent.
26. In handling the affairs
of a Decedent, do not be quick to make distributions to family members or
friends of the Decedent. Important choices need to be made concerning such
distributions and, of course, they need to be in compliance with the Will or
other instructions left by the Decedent, not to mention any applicable tax laws.
27. The income taxes of the
Decedent for the year of death need to be filed, and any tax due must be paid.
If there is a surviving spouse, the surviving spouse and Decedent can file a
joint return for the year of death.
28. If there is a Trust,
particularly a Revocable Living Trust, it will become irrevocable at the time of
death, if not before. A separate tax return, Form 1041, “Fiduciary Income Tax
Return,” needs to be filed for the Trust or the Estate of the Decedent if
income is received by the Estate or a Trust.
29. If there are minor children and
the Will provides for a guardian, then the guardian needs to be informed and the
children need to be placed in the care of the guardian. If there are minor
children and no guardian is appointed, or if there is no Will, then the Court
must appoint a guardian.
30. If there is real estate
that is insured, the Personal Representative should make sure that the insurance
policies on the properties of the Decedent are maintained.
31. Be deliberate and do
not be hasty with decisions or distributions. The death of someone, particularly
a family member or friend, is stressful and often if there are children of the
Decedent around during the course of the final illness, there may be disputes
regarding the treatment or other problems related to declining physical or
mental abilities of the parent. Stated differently, it is a time of frazzled
nerves and irritable people, so be very careful not to create schisms which can
last for a very long time.
33. Watch out for people
who prey upon families of Decedents. There are people who look for death notices
and make unfounded claims against the Decedent. Some may also attempt to
burglarize the home during the funeral service. Be cautious about such matters;
have someone stay at the home during the funeral service and do not easily
accept the claims of unknown individuals that lack documentation.
34. If there is a surviving
spouse, make sure veteran’s benefits or other "joint and survivor"
benefits are collected by the surviving spouse. If you need further assistance,
call Dan Newland (800-553-6613). While this list is rather extensive, no list
can be 100% complete, so there is bound to be some situation that has been
overlooked or not adequately treated.
Published by the law firm of Newland & Associates, P.L.C. For a full
range of business law and tax-related services, call us at (703) 330-0000. You may
also e-mail us at ,
or visit our web site at http://www.tax-business.com.
If you are reading this newsletter but are not on our mailing list, and would like to be, please contact us, at the above mentioned number.
While designed to be accurate, this publication is not intended to constitute the rendering of legal, accounting, or other professional services or to serve as a substitute for such services.
Redistribution or other commercial use of the material contained in this article is expressly prohibited without the written permission of Newland & Associates, PLC.
You can search for information in the entire Authors Row section,
or in the entire site. For a more focused search, put your search word(s) in quotes.
Newland & Associates Main | Authors Row Main | Home