What Happens When a Loved One Passes Away?

The Chamberlain Law Firm

The passing of a loved one envelops their family and friends in profound grief. This grief is often accompanied by a sense of uncertainty about the steps that follow. The responsibility of navigating the legal, financial, and personal matters resulting from loss typically falls upon an executor or trustee. Without an adequate understanding of the duties involved, the executor or trustee can face a daunting cascade of tasks. 

This article aims to offer clarity on how to proceed after the departure of someone close to your heart. Read on for insight from the experienced New Jersey probate lawyers at The Chamberlain Law Firm into managing the journey of settling a loved one’s affairs.

Immediately Following Your Loved One’s Death

It may be difficult to address the immediate practicalities amidst this emotional time. However, there are essential steps that need to be attended to. These immediate tasks are part of safeguarding your loved one’s wishes and beginning the process of estate management.

Getting a Death Pronouncement

Obtaining a formal declaration of death — known as a death pronouncement — is a necessary early step. Not many people know that a death pronouncement is distinct from the death certificate. A death pronouncement is a formal declaration by a medical professional and a necessary precondition to obtaining a death certificate. On the other hand, a death certificate is an official document issued by the government. We’ll discuss later about how a death certificate is essential when managing your loved one’s final affairs.

When the death occurs in a medical facility, the staff typically manages the death pronouncement without any need for family intervention. However, if the death occurs at home, the deceased must be transported to a medical facility where a death pronouncement can be made.

Notifying Family and Friends

Making these calls is challenging, so it’s beneficial to enlist the help of close relatives or friends. You might consider dividing this task among trusted individuals. For example, someone can inform family members, another can tell friends, and a third can notify colleagues. This delegation can alleviate some of the burdens from the immediate family during a time of mourning. 

Be aware that friends and family will likely inquire about funeral arrangements. Hence, it’s important to know details, such as the time and location of services, before calling friends and family. We’ll discuss funeral arrangements more in the next section.

Making Funeral Arrangements

Initially, look to an existing will or estate plan for guidance on the deceased’s funeral preferences. At The Chamberlain Law Firm, we encourage our clients to include instructions for their final arrangements with their estate plan. If the will or estate plan isn’t immediately accessible, you should call the deceased’s attorney to obtain any pertinent details.

If your loved one did not document their wishes, this period will involve making choices regarding burial or cremation and finalizing funeral details. Partnering with a funeral home can provide support because their expertise can help manage these tasks with dignity and care.

As part of the preparation, the designation of pallbearers and the composition of the obituary will need attention. If your loved one was a veteran, we recommend contacting the Veterans Administration, who offers burial benefits in honor of military service.

Securing Possessions and Caring for Pets

If the deceased resided alone, it is crucial to ensure their home and possessions are secure. This may include their vehicle and arranging for the immediate care of any pets. Also, it’s important to redirect mail to the individual responsible for overseeing the deceased’s financial and legal matters. This helps prevent any interruption in managing their affairs and safeguards against potential complications.

Weeks Following The Death

After the funeral, attention often returns to the practical necessities of estate administration. This phase encompasses a variety of legal and financial duties. As we mentioned above, these tasks pivot on the availability of a death certificate.

Death certificates can typically be requested through the funeral home managing the services. If this is not an option, they can be obtained from the local county registrar’s office. In New Jersey, these are known as Vital Records Offices, which are located in the town where the person passed away. To obtain a death certificate, contact the town and be prepared to bring the letters appointing you to represent the estate to prove authorization to obtain the death certificate. Or, proof that you are a direct descendent of the decedent. 

It’s advisable to secure multiple copies of the death certificate. This is because the executor of the estate will need the death certificate for various estate-related transactions.

Death Notifications

The Social Security Administration (SSA) should promptly be contacted. This is essential to halt any ongoing benefits that the deceased may have been receiving. Also, you will want to inquire about any death benefits that might be due to the estate or beneficiaries.

Further, life insurance providers must be notified to initiate the process for any applicable death benefits. It is also important to inform any financial institutions connected to the deceased’s assets or liabilities. In addition to making sure their accounts are secured, there may also be pay on death and/or beneficiary designations, which operate with a payout process similar to a life insurance policy. 

Know What to Do When a Loved One Passes Away

In the wake of a loved one’s passing, the sorrow can be overwhelming. This makes the myriad of tasks associated with settling their affairs seem impossible. Having a compassionate guide through this process can provide much-needed comfort.

Professional legal counsel is often indispensable during such times, especially from an attorney well-versed in matters of estate planning, taxes, trusts, wills, and the probate process. If you are in New Jersey and find yourself in need of assistance in drafting your own estate plan or in managing the estate of someone dear who has passed away, The Chamberlain Law Firm is at your service. We invite you to call us at (201) 273-9763 to schedule a consultation, where we can assess what needs to be addressed and support you every step of the way. For more estate planning and administration tips, be sure to check out our Insight Articles.

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice. In the event you would like to speak with a lawyer about the specifics of your case, contact The Chamberlain Law Firm at (201) 273-9763 to schedule a consultation.

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